Undefeated Fenerbahçe will finish as the UEFA Europa League Group C leader on Thursday, come what may, and progress to the last 32.
The same goes for runner-up German VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, which has also qualified by virtue of its superior head-on-head advantage over Olympique Marseille.
This means there is little at stake when the two teams clash in the last group match at Fenerbahçe Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium in Kadıköy on Thursday evening and will only be playing for pride and prestige.
The Yellow Canaries [5-4-1], as Fenerbahçe is also known, go into this match as the only undefeated team in the group with four wins and one draw in five outings. The only blemish on their record was the 2-2 draw home draw with Marseille in game one on Sept. 20, when Fenerbahçe squandered a two-goal advantage by conceding two late goals.
Since then, Aykut Kocaman’s Canaries have been unstoppable. They bashed Borussia Mönchengladbach 4-2 away at Borussia Park on Oct. 4; subdued tiny Greek Cypriot side AEL Limassol 1-0 in Nicosia on Oct. 25; beat AEL 2-0 in the return leg in İstanbul on Nov. 8; and defeated Marseille 1-0 away at Stade Velodrome on Nov. 22.
Mönchengladbach started its campaign with a 0-0 away draw at AEL; lost 4-2 at home to the Canaries in game two; defied gravity in game three by beating visiting Marseille 2-0; consolidated its position by drawing 2-2 away with Marseille in game four; and earned a ticket for the last 32 by overcoming AEL 2-0 at home in game five.
After a superb performance in the five group matches, Fener fans really want their team to sign off on a winning note. But the fear is that coach Kocaman may be tempted to field a weakened team made up mostly of reserves and rest his starters.
The 11 players who were in the starting lineup against Kayserispor in the domestic Spor Toto Super League on Saturday did not take part in some training sessions this week -- a clear sign that some of them will not make Kocaman’s first XI on Thursday.
Therefore, do not be surprised if any of these players -- Volkan Demirel (goalkeeper); defenders Hasan Ali Kaldırım, Bekir İrtegün, Gökhan Gönül, Joseph Yobo; midfielders Raul Meireles, Mehmet Topal, Cristian Baroni, Caner Erkin; and strikers Moussa Sow and Dirk Kuyt -- are on the bench or in the stands on Thursday.
Mönchengladbach has been all over the place in the German Bundesliga this season and is placed 10th in the 18-strong league with 21 points from 15 outings -- trailing leader Bayern Munich by 17 points.
Swiss coach Lucien Favre’s hopes in the Bundesliga are gone with the wind and in order for his team to salvage something or anything from an otherwise lost season, Gladbach mustn’t perform badly in Europe.
Furthermore, Fenerbahçe is the only team that has beaten Favre’s men in the group. Therefore, they may be coming to İstanbul -- with their regulars, not reserves -- seeking to avenge that defeat. And so if Kocaman underestimates the German side on Thursday, the outcome may not be good.
Kickoff is at 8 p.m.
Live on Star TV
Fener vs. Gladbach