The Yiğidolar (Brave Men), as Sivasspor is commonly known, host the Trabzon Black Sea Storm in their opening match of the 2009-10 Turkcell Super League season at the Sivas 4 Eylül Stadium this evening.
This, in fact, is the second time in three seasons that these top Anatolian teams will be playing against each other in week one of the season. The Storm hosted Sivasspor in their 2007-08 opener at Trabzon's Avni Aker Stadium in a match that was called off in the 90th minute after a senseless pitch invasion by Trabzonspor fans.
To recap: The Storm was leading 1-0 on Aug. 12, 2007 with less than 30 seconds to go when Sivasspor was awarded a free-kick near the Trabzonspor box after a foul on Israeli striker Pini Balili by Egyptian defender Ayman Abdelaziz, in what the local sporting media has dubbed "an Arab-Israeli conflict."
For no justifiable reason, the players started pushing and shoving, then all hell broke loose when a Trabzon fan ran on to the pitch and punched a Sivasspor player. This made the already tense atmosphere worse as the angry Sivas players gave the pitch invader a brief but sound beating. The situation thereafter disintegrated into a free-for-all punch-up. Referee Bülent Demirlek had no choice but to call off the match. Trabzonspor, as expected, was later declared a 3-0 loser by default by the soccer federation and ordered to play five matches behind closed doors.
Old friends, not foes
The two teams played against each other at home and away in the league last season, though not in the opener, and there were no unruly incidents. So what can be deduced is that this evening's game will also be trouble-free because it will be a clash between old friends, not foes.
The Yiğidolar stunned foes and friends alike by finishing as runner-up in the 18-team league last season behind champion Beşiktaş, while Trabzonspor was the second runner-up.
But Sivas coach Bülent Uygun completely overhauled the entire squad, trading 10 players from last season's squad and acquiring 15 new ones. The Yiğidolar acquired Pieter Mbemba (from FC Eindhoven), Yasin Çakmak (Fenerbahçe), Uğur Kavuk (Antalyaspor), Erman Kılıç (İstanbul BşB), Ferhat Bıkmaz (Hannover 96), Akeem Agbetu (Kocaelispor), Razak Omotoyossi (Metz), İbrahim Ülüm (Belediye Vanspor), Ersen Martin (Recreativo Huelva) and Cihan Yılmaz (Karşıyaka).
And Sivasspor parted ways with the following players: Mamadou Diallo (sold to Diyarbakırspor), Fábio Alves da Silva Bilica (Fenerbahçe), Herve Tum (İstanbul BşB), Kanfory Sylla (İstanbul BşB), Pini Felix Balili (Antalyaspor), Sergio Pacheco Oliviera (Baku), Eyüp Kadri Ataoğlu (Ç. Rizespor), Şamil Ünal (Kocaelispor) and Tayfun Emre Yılmaz (Sakaryaspor), while Murat Yılmaz, Ilgar Gurbanov, Ahmet Turan, Mohammed Ali Kurtuluş, Cemal Şahin and Emre Efe are still looking for new clubs.
What Uygun and the Yiğidolar failed to remember is that it takes time for new players to get used to one another. So it came as no surprise when Sivasspor was eliminated from the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League by Anderlecht. Uygun has learned his lesson the hard way and is likely to field a team that will be capable of giving the Storm a run for its money -- or even more.
The Storm has a new coach, Belgian Hugo Broos, who is eager to start his Turkcell Super League campaign on a winning note. But the fact is the Storm was not very active on the transfer market, adding just four new players to its fold. And the reason may be a sheer lack of funds or that Broos feels the old-timers on the team can still deliver the goods.
Whatever the reason, Trabzonspor remains a force to be reckoned with in Turkish soccer and this evening's game at Sivas promises to be a thriller. Kickoff is at 9 p.m., and the referee will be Halis Özkahya.
Cash-strapped newcomer Diyarbakırspor hosts Ankaragücü this evening. Diyarbakırspor, which played in top-flight Turkish soccer in 1977-1980, 1981-82, 1986-87 and 2001-2006, is back in the Turkcell Super League after a three-year sojourn in the soccer wilderness. Odds notwithstanding, both Diyarbakırspor and Ankaragücü will be aiming to start the season with victory; hence, it will be a thrilling game to watch. The game starts at 9 p.m. and will be refereed by Koray Gençerler.
Antalyaspor, which barely escaped relegation last season, hosts Ankaraspor. This match also kicks off at 9 p.m. and will be refereed by Gökhan Güneşer.