16 April 2014, Wednesday
Today's Zaman

Judgment day for Antalya and Samsun; playoff spots up for grabs

6 April 2012, Friday /OKAN UDO BASSEY
The regular season of the 2011-12 Spor Toto Super League actually comes to a close on Sunday, when leader Galatasaray takes on already demoted Manisaspor away and championship contender Trabzonspor clashes away with newcomer Orduspor in what is expected to be a thrilling Black Sea derby.

However, five of the six matches scheduled on the penultimate day of week 34 on Saturday are very important and for two reasons. The first is that they will determine which team will complete the relegation list -- in other words, join doomed Ankaragücü and Manisaspor in the Turkish second division next season.

And the second is the issue of which teams will participate in the fifth to eighth playoffs for a berth in next season's UEFA Europa League will be resolved.

Struggle for survival

The battle against the drop, however, towers above the Europa playoffs, and that gives added importance to the Fenerbahçe-Medical Park Antalyaspor encounter at FB Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium in Kadıköy and the Samsunspor-Sivasspor game at Samsun's 19 Mayıs Stadium on Saturday.

A draw in İstanbul would be enough for Mehmet Özdilek's Antalyaspor to stay in top-flight next season; but the fact of the matter is that Super League championship-chasing Fenerbahçe needs victory at all costs to stay in touch with leader Galatasaray during the upcoming Top Four playoffs for the title, otherwise called the “Super Final.”

Fenerbahçe trails leader Galatasaray by nine points going into Saturday's game and therefore victory, as expected, in Kadıköy will reduce the gap between it and the leader -- which is idle until Sunday when it faces relegated Manisaspor away -- to six points at least for 24 hours.

This is what Fenerbahçe is intent on accomplishing and it does not care one bit about Antalyaspor going down into the abyss. The same applies to the visiting Antalyans, who need only a point to stay alive. And whether a draw would jeopardize Fener's chances in the Super Finals is none of their concern.

Fenerbahçe's Senegal striker Moussa Sow, missed Thursday's practice session due to a knee injury, and Brazilian midfielder Cristian Baroni did not complete training on that day after suffering a knock. Whether these players will recover in time to be included in Saturday's squad remains doubtful.

Captain-playmaker Alex de Souza, who limped out with a strained muscle in last Sunday's away derby against Trabzonspor, trained separately from the team. Without Alex, and lefty Emre Belözoğlu suspended indefinitely, Aykut Kocaman's men may have a hard time overcoming desperate Antalyaspor.

Battle of Samsun

Samsunspor welcomes Sivasspor to 19 Mayıs Stadium in the other toughie to avoid relegation. Samsun, trailing Medical Park Antalyaspor by three points, has to win, but the interesting thing is that its fate is no longer in their own hands. Put another way, Mesut Bakkal's men -- as long as Medical Park Antalyaspor does not lose in İstanbul -- will still be relegated even if they beat Sivasspor with a bagful of goals. And that makes Samsun's job even more difficult.

Sivasspor, vying for a Europa League playoff spot, goes into the Samsun match with 47 points and so it is incumbent upon the Central Anatolian side, coached by Rıza Çalımbay, to beat Samsunspor or forget all about the playoffs.

Elsewhere in the playoff struggle, Bursaspor (49) hosts Gaziantepspor (45). The truth of the matter is that Antep earning a playoff berth is a tall order indeed, but the southeastern side nonetheless has to beat Bursaspor and then wait for the day's other results. Ertuğrul Sağlam's Bursaspor with 49 points and an 11-goal difference has already progressed -- win, draw or lose at home against Antep.

But Sivasspor, Eskişehirspor and İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor -- all with 47 points -- must win their matches or miss out on the playoffs. Ankara's Gençlerbirliği, which faces İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor on the road, also has 49 points like Bursaspor but its Europa League playoff spot has not been guaranteed yet. A draw will definitely be enough for Gençlerbirliği, but İstanbul BB, which has to win at home, will not be playing for a draw. Eskişehirspor hosts Mersin İdmanyurdu and needs victory at all costs to make the playoffs.

The winner of this playoff game will face the team that finished fourth in the (top four) championship playoffs for a berth in the Europa League qualifiers next season.