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Sunday, June 10, 2007

फेनेर्बह्स ओं कण!

turkey soccer(football)
Fenerbahce celebrate centenary in style
By Simon Hooper for CNN

ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- Recent visitors to Istanbul could hardly have failed to notice the predominance of flags and banners in blue and yellow stretched out amid the bazaars of Sultanahmet, and fluttering from seafront terraces along the Bosphorus.

While football fans would have instantly recognised the colors of Fenerbahce, they may also have been surprised by their saturation coverage in a city that traditionally splits three ways with Galatasaray and Besiktas -- the other two-thirds of the trio that dominate Turkish football -- also enjoying strong local support.

For now however, Istanbul belongs to Fenerbahce. The club is currently celebrating not only a record 17th Turkish championship but its centenary year. And to mark the occasion, Fener this week clinched the signing of a bona fide, albeit ageing, superstar: Brazilian fullback Roberto Carlos.

At 34, Carlos may not represent the most radical or imaginative of signings, but the former Real Madrid stalwart, a World Cup winner in 2002, fits the bill for a club seeking it raise its profile outside the hothouse atmosphere of Turkish football, bringing the sort of kudos that might just make the difference in persuading other top players to venture to one of the European game's frontiers.

"I had a lot of offers from Italy, England and other countries but Fenerbahce want to grow as a club and I was keen to help them," said the Brazilian.

Carlos' arrival is merely the latest stage in a revival that has seen Fenerbahce finally emerge from the shadows behind rivals Galatasaray, Turkey's best-known club on the back of four Turkish league titles in the late 90s, their UEFA Cup success in 2000 and regular recent progress to the later stages of the Champions League.

The club already has a big-name coach in Zico; a Brazilian connection that was instrumental in bringing Carlos to Istanbul.

It has an impressive new home at the 52,000 Sukru Saracoglu Stadium in the Asian side of the city (making matches between Fener and Galatasaray or Besiktas the only intercontinental local derbies in the world).

And now the club has success on the field, having finished the season nine points clear of nearest rivals Besiktas.

The next goal for Fener will be to translate domestic glory into dynastic dominance at home while establishing itself as a serious challenger for European honors.

Following last season's disappointment elimination from the Champions League at the qualifying stage, Fener will be hoping to make their mark in Europe's premier tournament.

That will likely depend on the scoring form of Brazilian midfielder Alex de Souza, top scorer this season, and revived Serbian striker Mateja Kezman, a flop at Chelsea who has rediscovered his predatory instincts.

But Zico will also likely have to cope with a continuing player drain, with this season's captain, Umit Ozat, already set on a move to Bundesliga side FC Koln.

Still those players committed to the club insist, the best is to come for Fener fans.

"This was an unforgettable season for Fenerbahce. This title is really precious and special," said Turkish international defender Deniz Baris after signing a new three-year contract.

"Now it will be easier because we have already proven that Fenerbahce is the best team in the Turkish League. Now our fans want us to be successful in Europe, so we will do our best."

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