Beşiktaş, after conquering Braga away in the round of 32 first leg on Tuesday, returns to domestic action on Sunday when it hosts Ankara’s Gençlerbirliği in week 27 of the Spor Toto Super League at İstanbul’s Fiyapı İnönü Stadium.
The Black Eagles, as Beşiktaş is popularly called, belong in Europe after all. The fact that they have not won a single match in their last four domestic league outings, but finished first ahead of English Premier League side Stoke City in the UEFA Europa League at the end of the group stage games on Dec. 14, and also beat Braga 2-0 on Tuesday, proves their “Europeanness” beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Black Eagles would have loved to play only in Europe and not in the domestic Super League where -- rephrasing Muhammad Ali’s famous quote -- they “float like bees and sting like butterflies.”
Knowing quite well that this season’s champion will not be decided by finishing first in the league, but by a four-team playoff at the end of the regular season, Beşiktaş’s Portuguese coach Carlos Carvalhal has been preparing his team for the playoffs -- not for first finish or second place in the league.
In other words, Braga-born Carvalhal has not been putting too much pressure on his injury-prone players in the domestic league but instead has been helping them preserve their energy for the UEFA Europa League -- where there are no playoffs.
But after the Eagles’ winless streak was extended to four following the 1-1 away draw at Sivas in week 26, fears emerged that the Eagles could miss out on the playoffs -- and eventually the league championship -- if Carvalhal cannot turn the tide in the team’s favor.
The Beşiktaş injuries are healing, albeit at a snail’s pace, and that’s some good news for Carvalhal and the Beşiktaş followers. Portugal forward Hugo Almeida, who came in as a second-half substitute at Braga on Tuesday, looks like a sure starter on Sunday.
However, Brazilian-Turkish midfielder Mehmet Aurelio, first-choice Rüştü Reçber, defender İsmail Köybaşı and German winger Roberto Hilbert are still at the club’s infirmary and so will all be absent.
Beşiktaş’s Portugal playmaker Ricardo Quaresma -- who got a direct red for a vicious tackle from behind in the home match against newcomer Mersin İdman Yurdu in week 24 -- has served his two-match suspension and so is very likely to make the starting line-up, as was the case in Braga.
Fuat Çapa’s Gençlerbirliği is also taking this match seriously. Injured midfielder Özgür İleri returned to training this week, but Albania defender Debatik Curri, lefty Mehmet Seyfettin Sedef and forward Emre Aygün were missing.
Gençler midfielder Onur Bayramoğlu, a Beşiktaş reject, said they were not afraid of Braga conqueror Beşiktaş. “The Eagles’ morale is sky high [after beating Braga],” he noted. “But we have trained well and will go out there and do what is expected of us. And I am optimistic we can win this one,” he asserted.
Storm at Kayseri
Kayserispor hosts Trabzonspor, or the Black Sea Storm, in another encounter that attracts plenty of media and fan interest. Kayserispor is coached by Georgian Shota Arveladze, a legendary Trabzonspor striker and goal king in the 1990s. The match, therefore, is going to be a clash of old friends at the Kayseri Kadir Has Stadium on Sunday.
Trabzonspor goal machine Burak Yılmaz has scored 27 this season, so Shota and Kayserispor had better watch out.
Sunday’s fixtures at a glance
13:00 Gaziantep-Ordu (ref Fırat Aydınus)
16:00 Eskişehir-Karabük (Süleyman Abay)
16:00 Kayseri-Trabzon (İlker Meral)
19:00 Beşiktaş-Gençler (Barış Şimşek)