“When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” And that’s exactly what is going to happen at FB Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium on Sunday, when Fenerbahçe hosts Trabzonspor in their Super Final opener.
Fenerbahçe and Trabzonspor, who used to be very good buddies, are now friends turned foes. There has indeed been plenty of bad blood and animosity between the two teams this season because of the ongoing match-fixing scandal.
Why? Trabzonspor, or the Black Sea Storm, lost the 2010-11 Super League championship to Fenerbahçe by an inferior head-to-head record. The Trabzonspor camp could not take it and consequently accused Fenerbahçe of fixing matches last season.
The Storm even filed a complaint with the Turkish Football Federation (TFF). But when İstanbul Prosecutor Mehmet Berk officially launched his match-fixing investigation last July, the flame not only engulfed Fenerbahçe but also Trabzonspor, and other teams as well.
The Canaries were withdrawn at the last minute from the lucrative UEFA Champions League, and Trabzonspor was invited by UEFA to take Fener’s place. The Storm’s acceptance of the invitation really fanned the flames. Trabzonspor, which has asked the TFF to take the league trophy away from Fener and give it to them, all along has claimed it is the bona fide champion and that there was no way it could have turned down UEFA’s offer to play in the Champions League.
The ongoing rivalry is likely to spill into Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium on Sunday, despite the pledges made by officials from both clubs.
Violence begets violence
Fenerbahçe fans did not treat Trabzonspor players well when the two teams met in week 16 of the Spor Toto Super League on Dec. 18. Fenerbahçe was paid back in its own coin during their week 33 encounter in Trabzon on April 1. Trabzonspor fans threw everything at Fenerbahçe players -- projectiles, plastic bottles, stones, a pen knife, you name it.
Consequently, Trabzonspor has been ordered to play two of its Super Final games behind closed doors.
It is almost a foregone conclusion that Trabzonspor players will be taunted, booed and hit with objects from the stands, and police and other security officials will be in full force around Saracoğlu Stadium to maintain the peace. The Fenerbahçe entourage should not expect a red-carpet welcome in the return leg in early May.
Fenerbahçe is the only “top four” survivor in the Ziraat Turkish Cup and is therefore the only team playing on two fronts. On Wednesday, the Canaries came from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Kayserispor, sending the game to extra time and eventually winning 7-6 on penalties. Kocaman’s men were stretched to the limit, and that might affect their performance on Sunday.
Fener coach Aykut Kocaman rested injured captain playmaker Alex de Souza and midfielder Emre Belözoğlu on Wednesday, benched first-choice keeper Volkan Demirel and started with rising star Mert Günok. Volkan very likely will return to the posts on Sunday, while Senegal striker Moussa Sow, scoring with gay abandon, is a sure starter.
The coach stressed they will strive to overcome their weariness before Sunday. “This is physical weariness [not mental],” he said after the epic Turkish Cup quarterfinals against Kayserispor on Wednesday, adding that barring any unforeseen circumstances, Alex and Emre should be fit for Sunday.
The Canaries are starting the Super Final with 34 points, half the number of points they had won by the end of the regular season, while Trabzonspor is starting with 28 points.
Back against the wall
The Storm therefore cannot afford to drop points in any of its six Super Final matches because that would mean raising the white flag of surrender. Trabzonspor winning the Super Final, clinching the 2011-12 Super League crown and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League proper looks like mission impossible. But the Storm, nonetheless, can finish second and play in the Champions League qualifiers.
Trabzonspor will again be relying on star striker and reigning goal king Burak Yılmaz to deliver goals. Burak, attacking midfielder Serkan Balcı and winger Volkan Şen had been nursing slight injuries, but all have recovered and are now fit as fiddles. However, long-term injury case Olcan Adın will again be conspicuously absent.
“We must keep our concentration intact because a lack of concentration leads to simple mistakes,” assistant coach Ünal Karaman said after Thursday’s practice session.
Trabzonspor has not beaten Fenerbahçe this season. The Storm lost 1-0 away to the Canaries in the season’s first half and drew 1-1 at home in the second. Trabzonspor Deputy Chairman Nevzat Şakar has warned that things will not be the same this time around.
“We [Trabzonspor] lost in the first half of the season at Şükrü Saracoğlu,” he has said. “We are going to play again at this venue on Sunday, and it will be different this time because we do not want to lose. We want to win this big match and make our fans happy. And there is no reason why we cannot do that,” he added.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m., and the referee will be Bülent Yıldırım.