Mateja Kežman turned down a move from Fenerbahçe SK in January and has not stopped scoring since, a trend he intends to continue at Sevilla FC next week.
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Judging by the speculation in January, wherever injury-hit Mateja Kežman would be plying his trade this spring, it would not be still be Fenerbahçe SK.
But when they began their UEFA Champions League first knockout round tie against Sevilla FC last Wednesday, a certain 28-year-old Serbian striker was leading the line. And with 17 minutes gone, Kežman headed his first goal in the competition proper since October 2001 to set the Turkish champions on their way to a 3-2 win – a victory which leaves them well placed to reach the quarter-finals after Tuesday's second leg in Spain.
Decision to stay
However Kežman, who underwent a knee operation in early October and only regained a starting place midway through January, admits that the media reports during the transfer window were not without foundation. He told uefa.com: "This winter, there was some speculation and there was serious talk as well. But I was not willing to leave Fenerbahçe because we are in the Champions League, I am happy and my family love it here. I had no reason to leave, so I stayed."
His determination to honour a contract that still has more than two years left to run has been more than justified. In his first start for 14 weeks on 16 January he found the net against Şanlıurfaspor and a week later scored four goals in another Turkish Cup game, a 10-3 win at Alanyaspor. By the time he headed in against Sevilla, his tally was eleven from eight games, compared to three in 14 prior to Christmas. "I am very happy because in the last six weeks I have found fantastic form," Kežman said. "I have scored eleven goals and this is the best I have played since I came here."
The whole team had reasons to be cheerful after the Sevilla encounter. "It was one of the most attractive games in the current Champions League," Kežman reflected. "Fenerbahçe are playing well so I think this result will give us a lot of confidence for the second leg. We also saw that they had a lot of holes, they are not so strong in defence – we scored three goals at home and we can maybe score another one or two away. So that pleases me and of course it is important that you win. We now have to go to Spain but not to play for a 0-0 draw but to try and score and play football. We have the quality, we have the character, and we have the spirit. We can write another page in the history of this club."
This is an edited version of an article from the uefa.com Magazine. To read in full click here.