Fenerbahçe, popularly known as the “Yellow Canaries,” hosts Romanian representative Vaslui in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League at İstanbul’s Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium on Wednesday evening.
But the Canaries -- who finished as the runner-ups in the domestic league this last season -- almost fired blanks during their warm-up matches in Austria and need goals in order to eliminate the Romanians and advance to the next round of the competition.
To recap, Aykut Kocaman’s Canaries played three warm-up matches in Austria and drew them all. They tied MTK Budapest of Hungary and English Premiership side Newcastle United 1-1 and also played to a goalless draw with Dinamo Tbilisi from Georgia. That the two goals which Fenerbahçe scored from the three outings came from a deadball situation and a long range shot shows why the Fener attacking force really needs to relearn the art of scoring. Goals win matches, which means the Canaries must outscore visiting SC Vaslui and turn the return leg in Romania on Aug. 8 into a mere formality.
Vaslui is a team that loves to win in front of its home and so the Canaries must avoid drawing with this enigmatic Romanian side or winning by a slim margin in Kadıköy because that, in the final analysis, could be risky. Kocaman and his boys should strive to finish off the job at Şükrü Saracoğlu where, according to diehard fans, “there is no exit.”
Fenerbahçe, without the slightest, is the better team on a player-to-player basis. They have made several important transfers so far, acquiring former Galatasaray midfielder Mehmet Topal from Valencia; 18-year-old Turkey international midfielder Salih Uçan from relegated Bucaspor; Dutch striker Dirk Kuyt from Liverpool; left back Hasan Ali Kaldırım from Kayserispor and center back Egemen Korkmaz from Beşiktaş.
The new signings join an already star-studded side that includes -- among others -- Senegal striker Moussa Sow, Slovakia winger Miroslav Stoch, midfielder Mehmet Topuz, Cristian Baroni as well as evergreen captain-playmaker Alex de Souza of Brazil.
Sow is nursing an injury and may not be fit to play by match time. This means Kuyt may have to be partnered by off-form Cameroonian Henri Bienvenu and/or Semih Şentürk.
But perhaps the problem facing coach Kocaman is how to blend the old and new and make them play as a team. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why the Canaries failed to win any of their warm-up matches in Austria.
A big disadvantage for the Yellow Canaries is that the Turkish Super League has not started yet while the Romanian league is in its third week.
Vaslui pounded Petrolul Ploiesti 3-0 in week two on Saturday and is currently fourth with four points -- with one win and a draw -- in the 18-team league.
Vaslui boosted its squad by signing Romania striker Marius Niculae from Dinamo Bucharest earlier this month on a two-year contract with an option of one year. Niculae, capped 41 times by Romania, was Vaslui’s 16th summer signing as the team seeks to improve on last season’s second-placed finish.
Other matches on Wednesday: Copenhagen (Denmark) vs. Club Brugge (Belgium); AEL Limassol (Greek Cyprus) vs. Partizan Belgrade (Serbia); Anderlecht (Belgium) vs. Ekranas (Lithuania); Cluj (Romania) vs. Slovan Liberec (Czech Republic); Glasgow Celtic (Scotland) vs. HJK Helsinki (Finland); Kiryat Shmona (Israel) vs. Neftci (Azerbaijan); Molde (Norway) vs. Basel (Switzerland); Sheriff (Moldava) vs. Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia).
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Fenerbahçe vs. Vaslui