Two Turkish representatives, Bursaspor and Trabzonspor, are both at home in the UEFA Europa League playoff first leg matches on Thursday, looking for victories to gain a good advantage in the return legs away on Aug. 30 -- and berths in the group stage of Europe’s second-tier club football competition.
Ertuğrul Sağlam’s Bursaspor faces a more difficult task as it hosts Dutch powerhouse Twente at Atatürk Stadium. Trabzonspor has a relatively easier job against little-known Hungarian side Videoton FC at Hüseyin Avni Aker Stadium.
The winners on aggregate over two legs will join the 10 defeated sides from the UEFA Champions League playoffs in the group stage, which kicks off on Sept. 20. The draw will be held on Aug. 31 in Monaco.
Bursaspor’s morale is sky-high as the Green Crocs, Bursaspor’s nickname, were one of the only five winners in the opening week of the Spor Toto Super League. For the record: Bursaspor beat gritty Kayseri away on Saturday with a goal by Chile center forward Sebastian Andres Pinto Perurena’s goal in the 26th minute.
Twente Enschede, on paper, may have a very slight advantage because the Dutch Eredivisie is two weeks old and Twente maintains sole possession of first place atop the 18-strong league standing. Leroy Fer scored the 51st-minute winner as Steve McClaren’s side kept up its 100 percent start to the Dutch championship season with a 1-0 victory at NAC Breda on Saturday.
But the Crocs are in no way afraid of the Dutchmen. On the contrary, Sağlam’s men have been training very hard since Sunday and are prepared to give Twente a very good fight. Young star Barış Sinan Üstün, who is injured, trained separately from the team and apart from that Sağlam does not have other serious injury problems.
“The team is highly motivated for the Twente match,” Sağlam said. “We are up against a very strong team; therefore, we have to be very careful and diligent. And with the support of our fans we are confident we will get the desired result that will give us an advantage in the second leg,” he added.
Sağlam will definitely give Saturday’s goal-scorer Pinto a place upfront in the starting XI along with Ozan İpek and Argentine Pablo Martin Batalla. İbrahim Öztürk, Serdar Aziz and Hakan Aslantaş will be manning the defense, while England keeper Scott Paul Carson will be in goal. Kickoff is at 8:30 p.m. and the match will be aired live on TRTSpor.
Trabzon against Videoton
The Black Sea Storm, as Trabzonspor is popularly called, seems luckier than Bursaspor as it will be taking on little-known Hungarian side Videoton FC at Avni Aker.
The Storm did not start the Super League opener very well as it was held 1-1 by Kardemir Karabükspor in a Black Sea derby on Saturday. However, the draw was not only Trabzonspor’s fault and the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) shares most of the blame for allowing the match to start at 5 p.m. under the summer sun on a pitch that resembled so much a rice field.
Avni Aker is a better stadium and the Storm expects a better result on Thursday. “This is a very important match for us,” veteran midfielder Serkan Balcı said. “We really want to advance to the group stage and for that to happen we need a resounding victory [on Thursday],” he noted.
But the sad thing is Trabzonspor has been losing blood in the last two seasons. This season it lost goal-king Burak Yılmaz, who scored most of the goals for the Storm, to Galatasaray. And one cannot stop asking how the Storm will be able to outscore its opponents this season.
Coach Şenol Güneş may opt to start Volkan Şen, Olcan Adın and veteran Czech forward Robert Vittek upfront, while keeper Tolga Zengin will be manning the posts. Trabzonspor does not only need victory over the Hungarians on home turf, but it must do so with style and panache. Kickoff is at 9 p.m. on D-smart.
Videoton, indeed, is an unknown quantity but Güneş’s men cannot afford to take anything for granted. The team is currently fifth in the 16-strong mediocre Hungarian league -- with seven points from two wins, one draw and one defeat in two matches. Videoton is best known in Europe for reaching the UEFA Cup final in 1985.
20:30 Bursa vs. Twente
21:00 Trabzon vs. Videoton