Monday, October 27, 2014

Turkey October 2014

Four matches in Turkey including a visit to the new Galatasaray stadium.

18th October  Gaziantepspor 1 Kardemir Karabukspor 0    c. 3000 (no away)

Gazıantep is fairly close to the Syrian border and there is evident extra security.
Fortunately for this writer there were no signs of black flags on the horizon.

The home teams stadium was close to my hotel (and an upmarket shopping centre) and its of the old style with single-tier covered seats, curved ends, all kitted out in red and black.
Various shops adjoin the ground.

As is usual now not many turned out to see this match.
(A consequence of the restrictive new system for buying tickets in Turkey - via Passolig)

There was a number of Africans playing for both sides - some from Nigeria and a couple from DR Congo.
One of them, Traore,  featured in one of a number of fractious pushing and shoving episodes that punctuated this match.

Although Karabukspor began well enough they conceded a goal after a Chibuike header had been saved only for Brazilian Chico to be on hand to follow up and score the only goal.

Afterwards the breaks in play helped the home side and their Lithuanian goalie was solid enough enabling Gaziantep to secure the three points.

Following the game I joined some locals to watch the Istanbul derby in whıch Galatasaray, thanks to two great Wesley Sneijder strikes, beat Fenerbahce.

19th October  Akhisar Belediye 2 Kasimpasa 0    c. 3000 (3 away)

An early flight from Gaziantep via Istanbul to Izmir.
And onward to Manisa using a convoluted route of train, metro and bus.

Travelling like this in Turkey has echoes of Brazil with tricky, often fragmented, infrastructure and locals who are helpful but not always accurate.

Akhisar would go up to third in the Super League after this win.
One of the reasons they are so high is due to the finishing of Greek striker Theofanis Gekas and he would convert again to clinch this victory later in the second half.

Another reason is probably of the presence of international player Bilal Kisa and it was his run that setup the penalty from which Demirok opened the scoring.

All this was somewhat hard on the visitors who played well except in the crucial task of scoring.
They would miss numerous chances.

That was despite their team including a name from the past - ex-Liverpool winger Ryan Babel.
But it was another Dutchman - Ryan Donk - who would stand out.
He was assured and elegant but ultimately unable to affect the outcome.

There was another small turnout including just a couple of fans (apart from the police) ın the away section.

It was significantly cooler here near the Aegean and I was glad of the brisk walk back to the (now disused) bus station near where I eventually was able to pick up the bus, or we would say coach, for the return to Izmir.
Sadly for me the last train (the station is close to the stadium) back to Izmır had departed at 8.48pm.

Back in my hotel in Izmır I had a couple of glasses of white wine as a nightcap following this long day.

The next day I enjoyed the sunshine while strolling to the Agora of ancient Smyrna.
The walk takes you past upmarket shops and restaurants along tree lined streets and on to the older area of markets and narrow streets.

The Agora itself would look better when it is finished.

Back to the present there are a selection Starbucks where a weary traveller can watch the Izmeri going about their business.

22nd October  Galatasaray 0 Borussia Dortmund 4  Champions League   36,324 (c. 2,500 away)

The new Turk Telecom Arena is a far cry from the old Ali Sami Yen.
But the locals still make a lot of noise.

We had suitably stirring music beforehand including a version of the ‘tomahawk chop’ song (as featured at the Atlanta Braves)  plus some fine choreo from the ultras behind the goal.

But sadly their team couldn’t build on the defeat of local rivals Fenerbahce at the weekend.

So rather than Wesley Sneijder delivering the knockout blows it was Marco Reus and co. who demolished the home side.
With fast movement and incisive passing that the home defenders could not handle.

Reus setup striker Aubameyang for the first and the Gabonese scored the second from similar range via a right wing cross.
Reus scored the third with a fine (Sneijder-like) right foot shot.

It was 3-0 at half-time and Borussia could have had more.
They added just one more in the second period from sub. Ramos and the home fans had little to shout about.

Whenever ‘cimbom’ did get close the Dortmund defenders were very solid.
And long before the end many of the local fans had started to drift towards the exits.

Visiting the Turk Telecom ?

Either wait for the metro to be fully open to Seyrantepe or be prepared for a tortuous and lengthy walk over to the stadium.
Especially in the dark.

In theory they have buses but certainly on a big night like this the horrendous traffic limits their functionality.

It is a fine new stadium (and of course very atmospheric) but the access, at least from the most popular direction is painful.
Nearly very painful for your correspondent who stumbled on one of the steps.

Eventually I made it back to the metro and was at Taksim, for a calming Efes beer or two,
by zero dark 45.
The restaurant was packed even though it was past 1am - the shisha pipes working overtime.

23rd October  Trabzonspor 2 Lokeren 0 UEFA Europa League   9,500 (c. 100 away)

From near the Syrian border, to the Aegean, back to the Bosphorus and now on to the Black Sea.

I stayed close to the Meydan in Trabzon where there were some Belgian fans strolling around  before the game.

Inside the stadium they were located higher up in a corner of the Huseyin Avni Aker stadium.
Which has that atmospheric inner city feel, being hemmed in by narrow streets.

On a mild night the ultras, behind each goal, kept up the chanting.
And they saw their team move on to six points in Group L of the Europa League with this win.

Mustapha Yatabare headed home from a corner for the first and the clincher was scored by the excellent Kevin Constant (Guinea) after being set up by ex-Chelsea full back Jose Bosingwa.
Constant’s left foot often began the Trabzon moves.

The opening goal, on 54 minutes, dampened the chances of the visitors who, before that, had held their own.
Lokeren had a number of half chances but failed to convert and in fact the home side might have had more including when Majeed Waris seemed to be brought down by Barry in the visiting goal.

It takes around 30 minutes to walk back to Meydan and eventually I found (at above street level) a bar where fans were watching Besiktas on TV.

The next day I returned, via a busy Ataturk airport, to London.

More pictures at

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Baltic region October 2014

Five Euro qualifiers in five days in the Baltic region.

9th October 2014  Lithuania 1 Estonia 0  Vilnius   4,780  (c. 300 away)

A flight from Luton to the first of the Euro 2016 qualifiers, played on an artificial pitch in the Lithuanian capital.

In cool, but not too cold, dry, conditions this was a Baltic derby that generally lacked great quality.

For much of the game the two sides seemed to cancel each other out as we saw little concise play in the final third.

Both teams used some long throws - without significant effect,

Novikovas of the home side did display some good left foot delivery and a decent shot but that was the exception.

Arlauskis in the Lithuanian goal was at times dynamic but at other moments erratic.
A point that wouldn’t be lost on any watching England representative.

A single goal, scored from close in by sub. Mikoliunas decided the outcome although the away cause was not helped by having a man dismissed later in the second period.

Perhaps the artificial pitch will assist Lithuania in the future as they battle for a probable third place in the group.
But expect England and Switzerland to fill the first two positions.

I was back at my hotel, near the station, before midnight for a beer (and nuts) nightcap.

10th October  Latvia 0 Iceland 3     6,354  (c. 40 away)

Some four and a half hours on the bus from Vilnius to Riga for my second Euro 2016 qualifier.

The Skonto stadium is a step up from the one in Vilnius being also three-sided but covered.

On a cool, dry evening the home side mostly relied on long balls which tended to fail and their chances were further diminished when their main striker, Rudnevs, was sent off early in the second half.

Soon after a piece of class (control, turn and shot)  from Premier League player Gylfi Sigurdsson put Iceland ahead and they added another two including a determined effort from sub. Gislason in the final minute.
That was the last minute of ‘normal’ time as we had eight extra due to an injury to the Austrian referee.

This was a solid win for the visitors against a home side that had one flurry near the end but not much else.
Could it be time for Iceland to make it through to the finals for the first time ?

Their group, also including the Netherlands, Turkey and the Czechs, is difficult but after two wins they have a chance.

A twenty minute walk back to hotel, a beer and bed followed the match.

11th October  Finland 1 Greece 1   26,548  (c. 300 away)

Another 4.5 hour bus ride - this time to Tallinn and a quick transfer to the Tallink terminal for the boat across to Helsinki.

On the Baltic Queen you have musical entertainment and long queues for the duty free.
A few staggered around either due to alcohol consumption or the weight of their packs of beer.

Helsinki was significantly cooler than Vilnius and Riga and hence the woolly hat and extra layers were needed in the historic Olympic stadium for my third consecutive 9.45pm kick-off.

This one was a bit of a step up from the other two in terms of quality and the second half provided some decent action.

Before that Greece had gone ahead from a fine (if slightly lucky) left footed strike from Nikos Karelis..
But Finland started the second period aggressively and pressed the visitors back getting their reward via a volley from the unmarked Hurme.

Indeed the home side could have done even better as they had a great breakaway chance later in the half, with four attackers bearing down on one defender, but the crucial pass was blocked.

Greek coach Claudio Ranieri decided to bring on the big guns (Samaras and Mitroglou) rather late - in the final ten minutes, and they were unable to affect the outcome.
Expect the well travelled Italian to be under pressure for that decision and that Greece have only one point from their opening two matches.

While Finland can be happy with a point off the group favourites.

I warmed up with a brisk walk back to the Radisson and a pricey (small) bottle of red wine.

12th October  Estonia 0 England 1   10,195 (c. 1,200 away)

Boat across from Helsinki to Tallinn and a revisit to the Le Coq Arena.

Which is certainly an improvement on the stadiums used in Lithuania and Latvia.
And, as in 2007, a good turnout by the locals to see our boys.

Who were not particularly fluent against a resilient home defence who even managed to contain the visitors with ten men for quite a lot of the second period.

Captain, leading by example, Wayne Rooney was often central to the action.
Either playing centrally, possibly to the detriment of Welbeck, or involved in a mixed outcome of free kicks.

Eventually he got it right, a la Beckham, with a strike over the wall and past the scrambling Estonian goalie for the winner.
Rooney should have got closer to the national goal scoring record later on but fluffed his chance.

Two or three nil would have been about par but overall it was of little significance as England got the three points anyway.

The locals did have some moments to cheer when the home side got close but Joe Hart was never troubled.

After three very late finishes it was a relief to have time for more than one glass red wine and some great football conversation back at the hotel.

13th October  Latvia 1 Turkey 1   6,432  (c. 400 away)

A return to Riga via the bus from Tallinn.

This time a better game with Latvia, again playing with ten men for a period, gaining a well earned point against the more favoured Turks.

Early on it looked like Turkey would overrun the home side with fast, incisive attacking.
But they failed to achieve a breakthrough and gradually the Latvians got into the match.

The first half was goalless but the visitors scored early in the second via a snapshot from sub. Kisa.
And it seemed Turkey would go on to victory but Latvia were awarded a dubious looking penalty, which the bandaged Valerijs Sabala converted for the leveller.

Although Turkey pressed the ten men the home side also had their moments and the locals could go home reasonably happy with their teams efforts.

While Turkey, missing some players, will no doubt improve.