Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe begin Europa League group campaign
DHA PhotoTurkey’s Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe are set to launch their Europa League group stage campaigns on Sept. 17, with the latter facing a tough task in Group A, which also includes Ajax and Celtic, along with Norwegian club Molde that will visit Istanbul in the opening game.
Beşiktaş will visit Albania’s Skënderbeu, a newcomer to the Europa League, while Lokomotiv Moscow and Sporting will clash in Portugal for the top two spots of Group H.
Fenerbahçe’s new striker Robin van Persie could score his first UEFA Europa League goal against Molde, while coach Vítor Pereira’s Portuguese compatriot Nani is another big gun for the Istanbul side.
Ajax’s Nick Viergever believes his team’s meeting with Celtic could prove decisive.
“We need to win against Celtic because Fenerbahçe are the favorites. They have spent a lot of money on their squad recently so that means realistically there is probably only one other place,” Viergever was quoted as saying by the Daily Record.
“Last year we progressed in the Europa League to play Inter Milan in the knockout stages, and the group this year is a Champions League group in all but name,” Celtic manager Ronny Deila told the club’s website. “We know it’s going to be difficult but we’ve got the players here to definitely believe we can get through.”
Like Celtic, Ajax - coached by former Rangers player Frank de Boer - was eliminated in qualifying for the Champions League but they are unbeaten domestically and sit at the top of the Dutch Eredivisie.
Beşiktaş, which knocked Liverpool out in the round of 32 last year before bowing out to Club Brugge KV in the round of 16, now has German striker Mario Gomez and Portuguese star Ricardo Quaresma on its books, under the management of its new coach Şenol Güneş.
Skenderbëu is the first Albanian side to feature in the group stage of a major UEFA competition.
Beşiktaş will miss its suspended winger OIcay Şahan in the game in Albania but its Argentinian midfielder José Sosa could make his 50th UEFA club competition appearance.
In charge at Skënderbeu since 2012, coach Mirel Josa was capped 27 times as a midfielder by Albania, spending the bulk of his career at KF Tirana before finishing up in Greece. He won a title as a coach with Tirana too, and has led his current side to glory in the last three Albanian league campaigns.
Meanwhile, before coming up against Russia’s Rubin Kazan and Sion of Switzerland, Liverpool begins its Group B challenge with a tricky trip to France to play Bordeaux. The Reds make the journey on the back of chastening defeats to West Ham United and Manchester United in the Premier League, and manager Brendan Rodgers could do with a much-improved display, especially after performing so poorly in Europe last season. The English side is without captain Jordan Henderson, who has traveled to the United States to seek advice on a heel injury. Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge might feature, however, against a Bordeaux side that is not the force it once was but is fresh from a respectable 2-2 draw at Paris Saint-Germain on Sept. 11.
The other English side in the group stage, Tottenham Hotspur, will face what on paper looks like their easiest tie at home to Qarabag of Azerbaijan before also taking on Anderlecht and Monaco in Group J. Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino is likely to heavily rotate his squad for the game but might be tempted to hand a start to Harry Kane, who has yet to score in the Premier League this season but netted seven times in the Europa League last season. The champions of Azerbaijan, Qarabag have already visited the British Isles this season in Champions League qualifying, losing to Celtic.