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Konak set new standards for Turkey

Konak Belediyespor coach Hüseyin Tavur hailed a "big milestone" for the game in Turkey after their qualifying round success placed them among Europe's elite.

Esra Erol (right) in qualifying round action for Konak
Esra Erol (right) in qualifying round action for Konak ©WFC SFK 2000 Sarajevo

Konak Belediyespor coach Hüseyin Tavur hailed a "big milestone" for the game in Turkey after their UEFA Women's Champions League qualifying round success in Bosnia and Herzegovina placed his team among Europe's elite.

The Turkish club were the fourth seeds in Group 1, but after beginning with a 2-0 defeat of FC NSA Sofia, they overcame hosts WFC SFK 2000 Sarajevo 2-1 to clinch progress and then won 1-0 against Cardiff City FC. Now, in the 5 September round of 32 draw, Konak could face the likes of holders VfL Wolfsburg or former winners Arsenal LFC, 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam or Olympique Lyonnais

They have come a long way since Tavur took the reins almost 12 months after their establishment in 2006. "In our first [few] years, the squad was rather limited," he told UEFA.com. "We gave attention to our youth set-up and promoted roughly seven players to the senior squad.

"Those players are still with us and we built on this with a maximum three new players each year. It's also important to note that our youth and junior teams either reached the semi-finals or the final in their local competitions."

Tavur's belief in consistency paid off as the team finished third in 2009/10 and runners-up the next year. Although they dropped down to fifth in 2011/12, Konuk won their maiden title last term to earn a European debut.

The backbone of the side consists of Turkey goalkeeper Fatma Şahin and defenders Esra Erol and Sibel Duman; together they ensured that Konak conceded only eight goals in their 18-match domestic championship, where they finished eight points clear of Ataşehir Belediyespor. Midfield duo Cansu Yağ and Yaşam Göksu and Romanian striker Cosmina Duşa had key roles further upfield.

"On the eve of last season, we set ourselves the target to become champions and then write history in Europe," Tavur said. "As there'd been no significant [Turkish] success in the national or club competitions, there was a hunger for success. We had faith in achieving something as a team and then with the huge support of our municipality president, Dr Hakan Tarhan, this achievement came."

Tavur believes their qualifying round triumph has historic significance for women's football in Turkey. "If we think about the past, this is a big milestone. When I speak to coaches from other teams, they say the door is open now and they started to ask themselves, 'If Konak can do it, then why can't we?' I am sure in the future, both at national team and club level, success will follow."

However, it will not be easy. "I am a PE teacher," Tavur explained. "When we visit schools to select players, we are happy when we find talented girls aged 16 or 17. Certainly, it's hard to teach new things to players after those ages. Proper education should start earlier."

But first they await their draw for a two-legged round of 32 tie in October. "Due to our coefficient, we are not seeded," Tavur said. "I guess any team would want to be paired against us, but we'll show that beating us is not a piece of cake."