Sunday, December 16, 2007

Genclerbirligi Match No Cause for Concern

Genclerbirligi Match No Cause for Concern
By Nathan L. Redd

"Did Fenerbahce really just win today?" Yes, it was one of those games for Fener on Sunday. We've seen them before and to their defense, every team has them. They were completely dominated for much of the game, looking tired and out of place. But there was one glaring difference this time: Fenerbahce pulled out a 2-1 victory.

One of the biggest knocks on Fenerbahce in recent years is a lack of focus and concentration in the Turkcell Super Lig. Critics say they take a European spot for granted and therefore play to their opponents level domestically. That criticism may be true, and Fenerbahce has had their share of duds in recent years. The Canaries started this season by dropping a 2-0 decision to newly-promoted Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyespor. Denizlispor has had their number several times over the years. Today appeared to be one of those domestic Fenerbahce duds. But there was one difference - Fenerbahce won this one. It may be a sign of what is to come for this club.

Anyone who watches Turk futbol knows that the style of play is very different. It's very aggressive and less fluid than many other European leagues. Contrary to the beliefs of many Turks, I for one feel that the level of competition is fantastic and that the league as a whole is underrated. But I agree that it's very different. Fenerbahce faces the same problem that Galatasaray and Besiktas face. With only one other champion from the afore-mentioned Istanbul three since 1959, there is an image problem for many Turk clubs. The Istanbul big three expect a European spot every year (and usually get it), while most other Turk clubs don't believe they can ever win it. The resulting factor is that many of the less-optimistic clubs play for a draw against the Istanbul three. Any point against Fener, Galatasaray, or Besiktas suits them just fine. When the Istanbul three venture out to face some of the lesser-known clubs, the games often result in a locked-down, grind-it-out style of futbol. In the few years that I've been watching Fenerbahce, I've known them to drop several of these games each year. However, good teams win bad games. It's true in any sport, which is exactly why I'm thrilled with Sunday's win.

Last weekend Fenerbahce was coming off an emotional 2-0 domination of rivals Galatasaray. Four days later, they disposed of CSKA Moscow to earn their first-ever spot in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds. Next week they'll face old rivals Trabzonspor as they get ready to take off for the winter break. The team was tired and uninspired for the "trap game" against Genclerbirligi. They played like a team not thrilled to be on the pitch, but they pulled it out in the end. That's a characteristic of good futbol teams and to be honest, something we didn't see from Fenerbahce in seasons past. Great European teams have games like this - games where they play terrible and shouldn't win. No team, despite how good they are, can play to a superior level for 34 domestic games as well as numerous European games, cup games, etc. It's those games where they look less than excited to be playing futbol that day. Often, they are matches where they are outplayed for much of the contest. I've seen AC Milan do it, I've seen Chelsea and Arsenal do it, and I've seen nearly every other traditional European power do it. But the great teams somehow win those games that they shouldn't. Just one year ago, Fenerbahce would have likely left town with no points after a game like this. This time, thanks to Semih Senturk, Fener comes back to Kadikoy with three points and five days off before they host Trabzonspor. It's way too early to say, but Fener's ugly win in Ankara may be a sign that this team is ready to take the next step in their quest for European glory. Great teams win ugly games, and at the end of season, an ugly win is still a win.


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