The snow has been cleared from the Şükrü Saraçoğlu Stadium for a fascinating encounter between fellow Round of 16 debutants Fenerbahçe SK and Sevilla FC.
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Nothing can cool the excitement as Fenerbahçe SK and Sevilla FC make their debuts in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round – not even Istanbul's weekend snowfall which still covered the Şükrü Saraçoğlu Stadium pitch as recently as Tuesday morning.
Thanks to some hard work by the groundstaff, the surface is now ready, and Fenerbahçe will hope to repeat the home wins against FC Internazionale Milano, PSV Eindhoven and PFC CSKA Moskva which took them through the group stage for the first time in five attempts. Sevilla themselves topped Group H on their UEFA Champions League bow and are past masters at two-legged football following consecutive UEFA Cup successes – nonetheless, home coach Zico is bullish. "I am not afraid of Sevilla," he declared. "If I was afraid of them, I would stay at home."
However, that is not to say the Brazilian thinks less of the visitors than of some of the other teams Fenerbahçe could have faced. Zico said. "They might not be famous like Manchester United [FC] or AC Milan but they deserve the utmost respect from us. We will respect them but will also fight until the end. It's obvious that they are a high-quality team. So are we."
Zico intends to field the same side that won 4-2 at Rizespor in the Süper Lig on Friday, even though absent forward Semih Şentürk has recovered from a knee problem. Despite the likely tricky conditions, and the risk of conceding an away goal, the Fenerbahçe coach will be sticking to his positive tactics. "Of course we should be the team doing the attacking," Zico said. "Our fans expect it."
Unlike their opponents, Sevilla have reached the European Champion Clubs' Cup quarter-finals, albeit 50 years ago under the previous knockout format. And since Manuel Jiménez succeeded Juande Ramos as coach after Matchday 3, they have kept a perfect record in this competition while also hitting domestic form to rise to sixth place in the Primera División. Without injured defender Javi Navarro and striker Ernesto Chevantón, Jiménez is reserving judgement on his lineup until after the visitors' Tuesday evening training session at the stadium. "We will try to hold up the ball and try to exploit any Fenerbahçe errors," Jiménez said. "Both teams are better playing down the flanks but the pitch seems extremely wet. Both sides will have to deal with it."
The hosts may not have the European pedigree of most of the last 16 clubs, including Sevilla for that matter, yet Jiménez points to Fenerbahçe's group-stage results as proof of their prowess. "Fenerbahçe beat the champions of Italy, of the Netherlands and of Russia at home," he said. "That's not a surprise. Their presence in the knockout rounds is not a coincidence." As for tactics, Jiménez mused: "Our team like to play attacking football and you can't easily change the style the players are accustomed to. But we may be a little bit more cautious because we are playing away. In two-legged games, it is important to return home without conceding."