'İzmir's Girls' making waves on European stage

'İzmir's Girls' making waves on European stage

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
İzmirs Girls making waves on European stage

Over 3,500 spectators acked the closed tribune at İzmir’s Alsancak Stadium to encourage Konak Belediyespor's historic Champions League run. AA photo

A women’s football team from the Aegean province of Izmir has already achieved historic success, and they have no intention of slowing down.

Konak Belediyespor, dubbed “İzmir’in Kızları” (İzmir’s Girls) beat Unia Raciborz of Poland 2-1 on Oct. 10 in the 32nd round of the UEFA Women’s Champions League, continuing its unprecedented run for a Turkish women’s football club.

The return leg will be played on Oct. 17 in Poland, with Konak Belediyespor ambitious to advance to the 16th round; the team is in dire need of success, given it has already captured the hearts and souls of many Turkish football enthusiasts in İzmir and around Turkey.

Speaking after the victory, Konak Belediyespor coach Hüseyin Tavur noted that the club was a pioneer in a country where women’s football is still struggling to achieve wide recognition. “We are just at the beginning of a long road and we have so much to do, Tavur said on the situation of women’s football in Turkey. “Tonight’s game was tough, my players were shaking before the game because they had never played at this level.”

Konak had already made history by becoming the first Turkish women’s team to qualify from the group stages of the tournament when they saw off challenges from WFC SFK 2000 Sarajevo, FC NSA Sofia and FC Cardiff.

The İzmir side, which dominated the domestic league by only dropping three points the whole season, went up 2-0 within 31 minutes thanks to strikes from Cosmina Duşa and Sevgi Çınar. Marta Mika scored a potentially crucial away goal before the break, leaving it all to play for in the return leg.
The team’s captain, Didem Karagenç, said she and her teammates proved “we can do it.”

“Women’s football in Turkey needs to be supported, Karagenç added.

Konak Mayor Hakan Tartan and the municipality are the driving forces behind the club, which is proud to be giving mostly under-privileged girls a go at professional sports. But Tartan is sad to see that the club’s huge success in its debutant year on the European stage has not drawn much interest.

“We have written history in women’s football, but I’m sad to see that many people still have not heard about it,” Tartan told journalists at a luncheon ahead of the match. “Until this year, a Turkish women’s team had never even scored, let alone won a match. We won all three games in our group; even coming this far is a huge success.”

Tartan, who launched an official bid to run for the İzmir Metropolitan Mayor position on the ranks of his main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), highlighted that competing at the highest level in women’s football without financial support from the Turkish Football Federation (TFF), or the state, created a burden on the municipal budget.

“I am determined to continue supporting the municipality’s club, but the success should be rewarded,” the mayor said, noting that the annual financial support from the TFF did not even cover the expenses of an away game abroad.

Konak Belediyespor’s run in the Champions League will also help pave the way for Turkish women’s football success.

“If we think about the past, this is a big milestone. When I speak to coaches from other teams, they say the door is open now and they started to ask themselves, ‘If Konak can do it, then why can’t we?’ I am sure in the future, both at a national and club level, success will follow,” coach Tavur was quoted as saying on uefa.com.

However, it will not be easy, according to Tavur. “When we visit schools to select players, we are happy when we find talented girls aged 16 or 17. Certainly, it’s hard to teach new things to players after those ages. Proper education should start earlier.” Despite all setbacks, “İzmir’s Girls” have made their city and Mayor Tartan proud, and the future seems to hold nothing but more success for the pioneers.