Fenerbahçe looks to turn back clock against Spartak Moscow

Fenerbahçe looks to turn back clock against Spartak Moscow

Fenerbahçe looks to turn back clock against Spartak Moscow

Fenerbahçe players celebrate a goal during the team’s 4-1 victory over Romania’s Vaslui in the second leg of the third round of the Champions League preliminaries. The Turkish Super League runnerknows that it has a more difficult task now, when it meets solid Russian side Spartak Moscow on the way to the Champions League. AA photo

Fenerbahçe visits Spartak Moscow tonight for what the club’s coach has billed as “one of the most important games in the club’s recent history.”

The Istanbul team plays the first leg of the Champions League playoffs tonight, but the game is more than just a European clash for Fener.

The team wants to return to the Champions League, the top-level club competition in European football, after a three-year absence.

The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) banned Fenerbahçe from playing in the Champions League last year for its alleged involvement in a match-fixing scandal. Turkish league runner-up Trabzonspor replaced Fenerbahçe in the competition.

Fener hopes to turn back the clock and return to the times before the match-fixing scandal, Kocaman said.

“If we manage to knock Spartak Moscow out, that will take us back to July 2, [2011],” Kocaman said last week, referring to the day before the match-fixing investigation was made public.

Return of Emenike

Two of the club’s officials were hit by TFF bans, and numerous officials were sentenced to time in jail for attempting to manipulate games and bribing opponents, but the club was not given any other penalty following the August 2011 ban on playing in European competitions. Returning to the lucrative league will not only be a morale boost for the club, but it will also make up for the financial losses it suffered last season.

In a strange twist of fate, however, the Spartak Moscow tie will also provide a flesh-and-blood reminder of the scandal, as Nigerian forward Emmanuel Emenike, a figure at the center of the rigging case who spent an ill-fated six-week period at Fenerbahçe last summer without having kicked a ball in a match, will face the Turkish club as a Spartak player.

An Istanbul prosecutor alleged as part of the match-fixing case that Fenerbahçe officials fixed their 2010-2011 Super League game against Karabükspor in return for the transfer of Emenike. The Nigerian was among the dozens of players and officials that were detained as part of the case. The Nigerian was released following a few days in custody, after which he requested a transfer and left Turkey for Russia.

“Emenike was disturbed about the four days he spent as a detainee and wanted to leave,” said his lawyer, Rezan Epözdemir. “But there is no risk now.”

Several Fener officials, including Chairman Aziz Yıldırım, were found guilty of rigging when the judge gave his verdict in May. However, Emenike’s case was separated from the case because he was abroad and did not attend the hearings. But it still remains in doubt whether Spartak will risk bringing Emenike to Istanbul in next week’s return game.

Kocaman said his team “must” prevail in the tie.

“All the hard work we put since July 3, 2011, was for this match,” Kocaman said. “This is a two-leg tie and we have to get a good result from the first game. We are a good team and we must show it.”