By Türker Tozar
They may have a superb record in Turkish football, but ever since their arch-rivals Galatasaray SK won the UEFA Cup in 1999/00, there has been the feeling that Fenerbahçe SK have been playing catch-up.
Club chairman Aziz Yildirim has invested large sums of money in bringing Fenerbahçe to Europe's top table, but they have yet to win any silverware - a fact that was underlined as they bowed out of the UEFA Champions League after the group stage again this season. However, having finished third in Group D after two 1-0 wins against AC Sparta Praha and a 3-0 defeat of Manchester United FC in Istanbul, Fenerbahçe were given a second chance to earn some European kudos in the UEFA Cup.
Coach Christoph Daum had been keen to downplay his club's European prospects. He praised his player's skills but also bemoaned their lack of experience. That lack of European savvy was perhaps one of the reasons behind the decision to sign French striker Nicolas Anelka from Manchester City FC for €10m in January.
The former Arsenal FC, Real Madrid CF and Paris Saint-Germain FC striker has not exactly won a reputation for settling well at new clubs, but his new captain Ümit Özat said: "He is a wonderful person. He has settled in quickly here and now he is not like a foreigner - it's more like he's Turkish."
With one goal in his first four games, Anelka is finding his feet, but after a 1-0 defeat at home against Primera División side Real Zaragoza in the first leg of their UEFA Cup last 32 tie, Fenerbahçe would dearly love him to hit full goalscoring form in Spain tonight. Last week's loss was preceded by a massive wave of hype as the Turkish press predicted that Fenerbahçe - so imperious in the Turkish Super League - would roll over Zaragoza. Perhaps that contributed to a complacent-looking performance, as did the suspension of playmaker Marco Aurélio.
The Brazilian's creativity has long been regarded as a vital element in Daum's side, and in his absence it was clear to most at the Zaragoza game that Fenerbahçe's wingers were not able to provide adequate service for the strikers and that the team conceded possession far too easily.
More worryingly, there was also a lack of cohesion. With the skill of individual players - at set-pieces in particular - having accounted for so many of Fenerbahçe's successes in Turkey this season, they looked uncomfortable as a unit as they faced a well-disciplined Zaragoza side.
A 7-0 league win against lowly Kayserispor on Sunday underlined German coach Daum's confidence in his side. "The result we got raised our morale on the eve of Thursday's clash against Zaragoza," he said. "I have faith in my team - they have enough talent to give more."
With Marco Aurélio returning from suspension, wingers Tuncay Sanli and Serhat Akin should certainly be able to provide a better service to strikers Anelka and Marcio Nobre, but will it be enough to overcome a side who have proved to be stern opponents in the UEFA Cup?
'We will beat Zaragoza'
Ümit Özat thinks so. "We have no reason to feel hopeless," said the 28-year-old. "Nothing is lost. There's no desperate need to talk in football but I know that we will beat Zaragoza." Fenerbahçe fans will be hoping that he can back his claims up by the end of tonight.
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