Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fener Puts Knockout Stage On Hold


Fener Puts Knockout Stage On Hold
Fans Must Wait to Celebrate
By Nathan L. Redd

Fenerbahce went to Milano on Tuesday hoping to celebrate their first trip to the UEFA Champions League knockout round. Instead they returned home with questions and a humbling 3-0 loss to Inter Milan.

Selcuk Sahin tried to put Fener on the board early with a shot just two minutes in, but his ball missed the mark. Ten minutes later Roberto Carlos had an effort on goal that was saved. The first half was less fluid than the first leg in Istanbul, and neither team could find the back of the net. Fenerbahce looked tentative and more stressed than a team in good shape to qualify. Both teams had chances to score, but neither could find the ball through to put themselves up. The halftime scoreline remained 0-0 giving Fenerbahce confidence heading into the break.

With PSV Eindhoven jumping out to a decisive lead over CSKA Moscow, Fenerbahce knew they would need to grab three points in Milano to seal their position in the next round. However, Inter used the second half to take charge and book their spot instead. The second half began with a number of fouls, and Fenerbahce's Diego Lugano picked up the first yellow card of the game in the 50th minute. Alex de Souza would have an effort on goal four minutes later that missed the mark. Less than a minute later, however, Inter's Julio Cruz found the back of the net to put the Italian side up first. A cross into the box was deflected off of Cruz past Volkan Demirel.

Zico would attempt to strengthen his midfield a few minutes later, bringing in Stephen Appiah for Mehmet Aurelio. Instead, four minutes later, superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored to give Inter a decisive 2-0 lead. Cristian Chivu provided a beautiful cross into Ibrahimovic that he soared past Volkan Demirel into the back of the net. Looking for an offensive spark, Zico would replace Semih Senturk with Colin Kazim-Richards a few seconds later for Fenerbahce's second substitution. A sloppy game continued as both teams committed a number of fouls, and Fener defender Gokhan Gonul picked up a yellow card in the 78th minute.

Looking for a last-ditch effort to pick up two quick goals, Zico made his final substitution in the 83rd minute by replacing Deivid de Souza with Tumer Metin. Colin Kazim-Richards would take a shot five minutes later, but his ball was off-target. As the game went into stoppage time, Inter would add a third goal by Luis Antonio Jimenez, providing the Inter player with his first-ever goal in European competition. Alex de Souza would get one more look two minutes later, but the final whistle was blown shortly after providing Inter with a decisive 3-0 lead. With the win, Inter booked their spot in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages. PSV Eindhoven also defeated CSKA Moscow to move within one point of Fenerbahce for the second and last spot.

Fenerbahce must make fans wait to celebrate, as they must take care of business in two weeks against CSKA Moscow in Kadikoy. PSV Eindhoven will host Inter Milan in their final game. A win by Fenerbahce will guarantee them a spot in the next round. A draw, accompanied by a PSV / Inter draw, would also book them a spot. A loss by PSV to Inter would make the Fenerbahce scoreline unimportant and advance them as well.

The game ended with both teams getting a number of shots. Inter finished with 16 shots to Fener's 11, but only three of Fenerbahce's shots were on target. A total of 29 fouls were committed in the game; 18 of which came from Inter. The Milano side also controlled the ball for 53% of the time compared to Fener's 47%.

After the game, Inter Manager Roberto Mancini said "It was a nice birthday gift from my team because it was not an easy game at all. We made it look easy at the end of the game but it was very difficult, at least until we scored the first goal. Fenerbahce were very organized and are very good at keeping possession with their technically skilled players. It was very difficult to break through and everything changed only after breaking the deadlock."

Before the match, Mancini indicated that the team had worked hard to try to stop Alex de Souza from taking over. Mancini was pleased after the win for his team's efforts. "Alex is very difficult to mark because he moves a lot from attack to a deeper position, that's why I fielded [Cristian] Chivu in midfield so he could help the defenders when Alex was moving back. Mancini also was confident that his opponent would join them in the knockout stage. "I think Fenerbah├že will beat CSKA and will qualify regardless of our result" he told reporters after the game.

Fenerbahce Manager Zico was disappointed in his team's performance, but he knows they still have a shot to advance. "We played well only for 45 minutes when we were very well-balanced. We started the second half well and had a good chance with Alex. But then we conceded the first goal, lost our calm and started to miss many easy passes. Against a team like Inter you risk conceding many goals if you play like that. They scored three and could have scored even more in the final part of the game. This game was important but not decisive, the decisive one is against CSKA in December. However we have to be calm and confident because we are in this situation only by our own merits and I think we can make the decisive step against CSKA. When you concede a goal you have to react because a match lasts 90 minutes, not 45. I think we have to play as we did in the first half today but then we didn't have to give up once we were 1-0 down" Zico told reporters.

Fenerbahce must now put the loss behind them and get back to business in the Turkcell Super Lig. The Sari Lacivert will travel to Denizli this weekend to take on the Denizlispor Roosters. That game is scheduled for Saturday at 19:00 (12 Noon EST in the U.S.).

(Photos courtesy of Fenerbahce.org)

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