Anatolian giants Eskişehirspor and İstanbul qualified to take part in the four-team group, which features teams that ranked from the fifth to the eighth in the league table at the end of the 34-week regular season, after taking the fifth and the sixth places, respectively. Both teams aim to earn a berth in the second-tier European competition that is to be awarded to the winner of a game between the No. 1 of the group and the team which takes the bottom place in the Super Final group, where the top four teams of the top division struggle for the domestic league title.
Eskişehirspor has been embracing Europe from two sides and does not want to let it go. The Central Anatolians advanced to the Turkish Cup semifinals after eliminating Medical Park Antalyaspor with an easy 3-0 victory. The winner clinches both the coveted cup and a ticket to Europe. Eskişehirspor won the cup one time in 1971 after beating Bursaspor and lost it in the final game twice.
Unlike Eskişehirspor, all İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi can do is to lead the Europa League group and proceed to the later step to represent Turkey in the big competition. In fact the İstanbul team is the only one in the group that starts the group games fresh as they were not exhausted because of the Turkish Cup games (they were eliminated last month from the tournament). After coach Abdullah Avcı’s departure to replace Dutchman Guus Hiddink in the Turkish national football team, the İstanbul team has steadily fallen down from top spots of the league for weeks but still managed to make it to the top eight.
But İstanbul has faith in itself. The club’s football official Kamil Dizdar said after the draws for the schedule of the Europa League group games took place last week that his team was strong enough to lead the group and later be qualified for the Euros. Dizdar sees it as an advantage that İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi will focus on the group games while its opponents are busy with Turkish Cup at the same time.
“Looking through the teams in the top eight [of the league table], we think that we have a good chance to go to Europe. I hope we’ll obtain the ticket to Europe that we lost at last year’s Turkish Cup final,” the İstanbul team’s assistant coach Zafer Turan told reporters after a Gençlerbirliği game last week.
İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi could not embrace the Europa League opportunity last season when they were the finalists of the Turkish Cup. They lost the cup to Beşiktaş, yet the grand title was marred by match-fixing allegations as it was speculated that that game was purchased by the Beşiktaş Black Eagles.
In the two games that pit the two teams against each other during the regular season, the score was tied 2-2 in the first half of the season while Eskişehirspor had a 3-1 victory over the İstanbul side at home in the second half.
The system of Super Final and Europa League groups, each consisting of four teams, was launched in the middle of this season amidst a match-fixing investigation, which has been rocking Turkish football since last summer. The system that was valid until this season stipulated that the third and fourth-place holders as well as the Turkish Cup winner would go to the second-tier European competition. This playoff system was harshly criticized for aiming to bring more revenues in for the league broadcaster.
The competition for the Europa League group was harsher than the one for the Super Final group as until the very last game of the regular season the teams to qualify for the playoffs were not known. The fifth, Eskişehirspor; the sixth, İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi, and the seventh, Sivasspor, all garnered 50 points, and the eighth, Bursaspor, could only advance to the group with a superior head-to-head record against Gençlerbirliği with 49 points.