As former league-winning team-mates at Galatasaray AŞ, Turkish internationals Arda Turan and Mehmet Topal have shared highs and lows while playing for club and country. On Thursday, though, the pair will put past allegiances aside when their respective teams, Club Atlético de Madrid and Valencia CF, meet in the UEFA Europa League semi-finals.
In his second season at Valencia, Topal says he is enjoying his "best moments" since arriving from Galatasaray. Charged with linking defence and attack, the 26-year-old has delighted Valencia fans with two excellently taken goals in this term's UEFA Europa League, aiding their passage through to a last-four encounter against the 2010 winners.
"Our objectives this season are clear," the midfielder explained. "We want to qualify for next season's UEFA Champions League by finishing third in our domestic championship and are looking to win the UEFA Europa League. We are training exceptionally hard and we are completely focused on every game in both competitions."
Topal's comments mirror those of Arda, 25, who has also registered twice in Europe this season. Described by Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim as "one of the best players in Turkey", the wide midfielder – scorer of 28 goals in 127 Turkish Super League appearances before moving to Spain last summer – recently said: "We are continuing on our way to what we hope will be UEFA Champions League football next season. You never know what can happen in football but we are hungry to win the Europa League. Let's see how things turn out."
Having overseen just one win in Valencia's last nine away encounters in Europe, coach Unai Emery will be looking for improvement against an Atlético side who are not only the top scorers left in the competition, but who have also won their last eight European home fixtures. Acknowledging that Emery has brought the best out of him this season, Topal believes there is no reason the 2004 UEFA Cup winners cannot achieve a positive result in Thursday's first leg.
"The coach is always on top of me and motivating me so I never relax," he said. "He is doing that for a reason. We all have our faults; sometimes we play well while at other moments we play badly and it is for that reason he is important for us. I would like to thank [Emery] for constantly being on my case because it encourages me to correct the mistakes I make."
Success in Europe for Topal or Arda would in some way make up for their nation's failure to reach UEFA EURO 2012. Both players – who first teamed up for Turkey at Under-21 level – played a part in the two-legged play-off defeat by Croatia last November, so will be keen to end the campaign by lifting a trophy in Bucharest on 9 May.
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