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By Steve Bryant in Istanbul
Fenerbahçe SK are back in the UEFA Champions League after securing their first Turkish title in three years, and coach Christoph Daum wants them to hit the ground running against AC Sparta Praha.
Daum's side have four wins and a draw from their opening Turkish Superleague games, leaving them second in the domestic standings. However, the German believes that their results have masked some disappointing performances and errors, particularly in defence, that they cannot afford to make against Sparta, who progressed through the group stage last season with a dramatic victory against Fenerbahçe's Istanbul rivals Besiktas JK.
"Looking at our recent matches we need to produce much more for the Champions League, especially in terms of mistakes, because teams like Sparta are very experienced and will not leave errors unpunished," Daum said. Still, his team are highly-rated, as Sparta coach Frantisek Straka admits.
Fenerbahçe have a great squad and a squad that is very well tailored for the Champions League," Straka said. "Looking at that Fenerbahçe squad, they are one of the more ambitious sides," They will need to be to get out of Group D, also containing Manchester United FC and French champions Olympique Lyonnais, and Fenerbahçe will have painful memories of their last campaign, when they lost all six games in 2001/02.
Home captain Ümit Özat said he felt the responsibility to ensure a better performance this time. "Since the start of last season there has been a huge effort on the part of the players, the management, the club and the fans. We have been moving forward with our eyes on European football. We know from experience how important it is that that effort should not be wasted," he said.
As part of the club's drive, Daum has made several key signings including Brazilian midfield player Alex De Souza and Dutch striker Pierre van Hooijdonk. For Slaka, the huge expectations surrounding Daum's side are the biggest advantage his own experienced campaigners have in Istanbul
Pressure on Fenerbahçe
Slaka said: "Fenerbahçe have made many transfers and have high hopes. We have nothing to lose and the quality of our players is obvious. But Fenerbahçe have to win, and that is our biggest advantage." Indeed, Daum conceded his side's relative inexperience was a potential problem, although he added: "You could say that we have a disadvantage there but we're going to turn it into an advantage.
"I think it is more about your own performance. If we have tactical discipline then we can fight against these teams. So although they have more experience than us, we have internationals who play for their countries and
I do not think there is much difference between international football and the Champions League."
One uncertainty is whether Daum will play Van Hooijdonk - who scored both goals when the Netherlands beat the Czech Republic 2-0 last week - as a lone striker. Against Sebatspor at the weekend the introduction of Brazilian Marcio Nobre alongside Van Hooijdonk transformed the Fenerbahçe attack, but for Straka the threat of the Dutchman - and his set-pieces - is enough of a worry.
We must stop him getting the ball," Straka said. "If we can do that and not give away free-kicks then maybe we can reduce his influence." Straka added that influential midfield player Karel Poborský was fit to play, while Daum revealed that central defender Servet Cetin was back in training and would play if he passed a fitness test on Wednesday morning.
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