Fenerbahçe draws against Russian club Locomotive Moscow in Europa League amid tensions
AA photoTurkish club Fenerbahçe and Russia’s Locomotive Moscow will hope tensions between their respective countries will not be reflected on the football pitch when the two sides meet in the Europa League in February.
The two teams were drawn against each other on Dec. 14 for a round of 32 clash, while the other Turkish club in the competition, Galatasaray, drew Italian club Lazio.
Relations between Russia and Turkey have been sour since Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on Nov. 24 for violating its airspace. Russia denied any violation and responded with measures against Turkey, including bans on exports and a tourism boycott.
The tensions also spread to sports, with the Russian Sports Ministry banning the country’s clubs from transferring any Turkish athletes.
Two volleyball matches scheduled to be played in Turkey - Arkasspor versus Belogorie in İzmir on Dec. 1 and Ziraat Bank versus Dynamo Moscow in Ankara on Dec. 2 - were canceled by the European Volleyball Confederation (CEV) upon requests from the Russian clubs.
If the games are played as scheduled, a tough challenge will be waiting for both sides on the pitch.
The Fenerbahçe side, however, seemed incredibly confident.
“We have a settled team, I am sure that we can eliminate Locomotive Moscow,” Fenerbahçe spokesman Mahmut Uslu told UEFA.com.
“When you look, you can’t see any weak teams in this competition. When we reached the semifinals in 2012-13, there were no weak teams then either and we just missed the chance to reach the final. I hope we can have a similar run and go one step further this time,” he added.
Locomotive midfielder Alan Kasaev noted the game will be played in a tense atmosphere.
“Fenerbahçe is a good, well-organized team,” he said. “The atmosphere in Turkey is going to be terrifying. Hopefully, our fans will fill our ground too.”
Locomotive advanced to the round of 32 from Group H, which also included Turkish club Beşiktaş. Both games they played in the group ended in 1-1 draws, as Beşiktaş finished third, two points behind leader Moscow, to lose out a spot in the elimination round.
The second club in the competition, Galatasaray, will take on Lazio as it wants to ease the wounds of being knocked out of the Champions League.
The 2000 UEFA Cup winner finished third in its group behind Atletico Madrid and Benfica and had to continue its European campaign in the lower competition.
The first legs will be played on Feb. 18 and the return matches seven days later.
Fenerbahçe will host its first leg against Locomotive on Feb. 16 to avoid a clash with the Galatasaray home game two days later.
Also in the Europa League, triple European champion Manchester United and its under-fire coach Louis van Gaal face a tricky task against little-known Midtjylland.
United, knocked out of the Champions League last week, will meet the Danish league winner, an unsung club backed by owner Matthew Benham which eliminated Southampton earlier in the competition.
Midtjylland’s pony-tailed chairman Rasmus Ankersen, appointed by former financier and professional gambler Benham, who also owns English second-tier club Brentford, issued a warning after the draw.
“We have already beaten one English team so we are not afraid,” said Ankersen. “We are a small club with a small budget and we know we can’t outspend them so we have to out-think them and, so far, this way has worked for us in the Europa League.”
In another eye-catching tie, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp will return to Germany to face Augsburg, another club in their maiden European campaign.
Sevilla, knocked out of the Champions League last week, will launch its bid for a hat-trick of Europa League titles against Norwegian club Molde, while former Champions League winner Borussia Dortmund and Porto also meet.
Other ties feature Olympique de Marseille against Athletic Bilbao, Anderlecht against Olympiakos Piraeus and Shakhtar Donetsk against Schalke 04.