By Steve Bryant at Sükrü Saraçoglu stadium
Ten-man Fenerbahçe SK held on to a 1-0 lead against a combative AC Sparta Praha side here in Istanbul, braving a wave of second-half attacks to record their first UEFA Champions League win in seven games and launch their Group D challenge.
Fenerbahçe coach Christoph Daum opted to start with a 4-4-1-1 formation that put in-form Dutch striker Pierre van Hooijdonk alone up front with newly-arrived Brazilian playmaker Alex de Sousa just behind him. Additional support was offered by wingers Tuncay Sanli and Serhat Akin. At the back, Servet Cetin returned from injury to central defence with Fabio Luciano.
For Sparta, coach František Straka fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation with Miroslav Baranek in place of the still-injured Karel Poborský on the right wing. Milan Pacanda was the lone striker. Tomáš Sivok and Petr Voríšek were given defensive midfield duties, ahead of the back four.
Sparta threatened the Turkish goal in the early minutes from a series of dead-ball positions, but failed to test keeper Rüstü Reçber. The nearest the visitors came was a ninth-minute header, steered wide by Jiri Homola from an inviting Pacanda free-kick.
As the game progressed, the home side carved out the first real chance, Tuncay Sanli thundering a drive that had Jaromír Blazek acrobatically tipping the effort on to his crossbar. In the same spell of pressure, Fenerbahçe scored the game's only goal, in the 16th minute. Van Hooijdonk rose beautifully above a static Sparta defence to head a lofted cross from Alex into the far corner.
Sparta, undaunted by the noise now generated from a packed home crowd, fought back and forced their way into the Fenerbahçe box in the 26th minute, only for Voríšek to volley wide. Absorbing the Sparta fightback, the home side still looked threatening, particularly on the break when their two pacey wingers started to stretch the Prague side's defence.
Fenerbahçe started the second half brightly. Winger Tuncay Sanli cut in from the left to find Alex unmarked in the Sparta box just after half-time, but Blazek was well placed to block the Brazilian's powerful left-footed drive. In a phase of delightful and fast football soon after that, the two Fenerbahçe wingers combined dangerously with Van Hooijdonk and Alex in the centre to test the Sparta defence.
But Sparta were not giving in and were finding weaknesses in the Fenerbahçe back line. Pacanda found Tomas Sivok with a swirling free-kick that nearly resulted in a goal, and the young Czech tested the home defence himself with a mazy run.
Referee Cardoso Cortez Batista dismissed Fenerbahçe defender Servet Cetin in the 73rd minute for a foul near the home penalty area. But even with the numerical advantage, and although Sparta kept piling on the pressure, they failed to create any further clear openings thanks to some poor passing and some excellent last-ditch Fenerbahçe defending.