Lions vs Canaries: Tensions run high

Lions vs Canaries: Tensions run high

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Lions vs Canaries: Tensions run high

Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray supporters light fireworks and exchange words in the Super Cup match played on Aug 10 in the eastern province of Erzurum. DHA photo

The final day of last season and the first day of the new one have proven that Turkish football’s fiercest rivalry will test new boundaries this year.

After closing the 2011-2012 season with a tense title-decider in May, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe met again last week to start a new campaign. Galatasaray won the Super Cup 3-2 over Fenerbahçe, but what made headlines was Galatasaray winger Engin Baytar’s attack on referee Cüneyt Çakır, the fireworks lit in the stands after each Galatasaray goal, and heated exchanges between the two sides’ players.

With Beşiktaş being forced to downsize to survive and Trabzonspor taking a few steps back, it seems as though Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe will run this year’s title chase as a two-horse race.

More attackers

Defending champion Galatasaray has signed two of Turkey’s best forwards: Burak Yılmaz from Trabzonspor and Umut Bulut from Toulouse (on a loan deal) to add depth behind Johan Elmander, Necati Ateş and Milan Baros, who the coaching staff considers a surplus player. The Lions spent a good deal of money and time to extend Felipe Melo’s loan contract, and will be hoping the Brazilian, who scored 10 goals in his first season, will again team up with Selçuk İnan to form a quality partnership. Last year, the duo had to shoulder the midfielder duties all by themselves, but this time they will have Hamit Altıntop, whose one year at Real Madrid was largely disappointing. The trio will try to lead Galatasaray on its path to domestic and continental success – with the club returning to the Champions League after a six-year absence.

However, all eyes will be on Nordin Amrabat this year, after the Moroccan endured falling out of favor at Kayserispor for half a year after his public announcement that he wanted to play for Galatasaray. The Istanbul club paid Kayserispor eight million euros for him, setting this summer’s highest transfer fee.

Moderate spending

Fenerbahçe, on the other hand, did not pay a big fee for its biggest transfer of the season. Dutchman Dirk Kuyt chose to play in Istanbul after six years at Liverpool and was signed after Fenerbahçe paid one million euros to the English Premier League club. Milos Krasic, whose Juventus years have been disappointing, is another key addition, while Turkish internationals midfielder Mehmet Topal, left back Hasan Ali Kaldırım and defender Egemen Korkmaz are key additions to the club’s squad depth. The club sees Champions League qualification as key among its ambitions. “Champions League qualification will bring us back to July 2,” Coach Aykut Kocaman said, referring to the club’s pre-match-fixing scandal days.

In a twist of fixtures, or by sly design on the part of the Turkish Football Federation, the two teams will face each other in the 33rd week of the season for the penultimate match of the campaign. Since there will be no playoffs this year, the game at the Şükrü Saracoğlu is highly likely to be a title-decider, just like last season. Expect more blood, sweat and tears, and even some teargas.