Konak Belediyespor became the pride of Turkish women's football last year when they reached the UEFA Women's Champions League round of 16, a fantastic achievement for a nation whose clubs had never before progressed from any group or tie in the competition.
Konak followed up that spectacular debut by retaining their domestic title unbeaten last season. Now the task is to match their previous European heroics, and they got off to a good start on Saturday by overwhelming qualifying round Group 1 hosts Rīgas FS 11-0 with five goals from Romania forward Cosmina Duşa, who now has 28 in 23 competition appearances.
Four points from their matches against FC Minsk on Monday and FC Zürich Frauen (who also reached the 2013/14 round of 16) on Thursday would ensure progress to the last 32. But Konak coach Hüseyin Tavur knows it will be tougher than 12 months ago, when they saw off FC NSA Sofia, WFC SFK 2000 Sarajevo and Cardiff City FC.
"On paper it seems that we and Zürich are the favourites," said Tavur, whose team went on to beat RTP Unia Racibórz over two legs last term before falling to SV Neulengbach. "I believe that the last match in the group will be played in a final-like atmosphere. But we have faith that we can reach the knockout stage."
Konak strengthened significantly over the summer, adding Turkey attacking midfielder Arzu Karabulut from Bayer 04 Leverkusen and left winger Ebru Topçu, widely regarded as the most technically gifted women's player in the country, signed from Karadeniz Ereğlispor.
Tavur added: "I would like to see our team become regulars in the Women's Champions League and we have done that, but we are aware that the bar is raised now. Our group is more difficult compared to last season. We want to reach the round of 32 at least."
One of the most hardworking players in Konak's midfield in recent seasons, Cansu Yağ – like Arzu born in Germany – reckons the experience of last year was invaluable. "There's a huge difference between Germany and Turkey when it comes to women's football," said Cansu, who scored on Saturday. "Last season, we felt that we were missing something on the European stage. Now we are preparing ourselves knowing those points."
Arzu concluded: "I know most of my team-mates from the national team so I almost didn't need any time to adapt here. When they reached the round of 16 last season, I was proud of those girls as a Turk living in Germany. Now I want to see us surpassing this success with me as part of the team."
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