RACHEL – Turkish football’s golden girls go down fighting as they bow out of CL

Turkish football’s golden girls go down fighting as they bow out of CLThe womenand#39s football branch of Izmir-based sports club Konak Belediyespor ended its second campaign in the UEFA Womenand#39s Champions League on Thursday after dropping out in the final match of qualification.What sets Konak apart from previous Turkish entrants, including AtaIehir Belediyespor, Gazi universitesi and Trabzonspor, is that Konak has aanced beyond the qualification round in the past.

But this year, Konak Belediyespor could not overcome their final Group 1 opponents, FC Zurich Frauen. A penalty ruling against defender Didem Karagen gave the Austrians their first goal in the 16th minute.

Three more followed in the second half to stifle Konakand#39s dreams of aancing to the round of 32 again this year Konak was also not one of the two best runners-up of the group stage to aance.Zurich had also defeated their last Turkish opponent, AtaIehir, 4-0 in the 2012-13 edition of the Champions League to finish top in their group.

If they had won or even drawn against Zurich, Konak would have been pitted against any one of the other seven groupsand#39 winners or two best runners-up, or one of the top European leaguesand#39 champion, in the round of 32.It is a bitter defeat for Konak, which powered into this yearand#39s competition with a startling 11-0 win over Rigas FS, the host of Group 1 qualification.

It was a harsh initiation for the Latvian side in its Champions League debut.Konak then toned down the scoring in match two, when the club came from behind to edge Belarusian side FC Minsk 2-1.

This brought Konak to the top of the group with two wins and six points, trailed by Swiss side FC Zurich Frauen, whom they would have to face in the final group match. All Konak needed was a draw to end at the top of the group, as Zurich was held to a draw by Minsk in their previous match, which left the Swiss team with just four points.

Experience overcomesKonak had the aantage going into the match on Thursday, but Zurichand#39s experience won them over It is only Konakand#39s second run in the competition.Last season, it became the first Turkish club to aance past qualification in the Champions League.

Konak went all the way to the round of 16 before getting knocked out by 12-time Austria champs SV Neulengbach after two 3-0 defeats.They had finished at the top of their group after defeating FC NSA Sofia, SFK 2000 and Cardiff City in Sarajevo.

In the round of 32, Konak came up against five-time Polish champions RTP Unia Racibandoacuterz, whom they defeated 2-1 at home with goals from Cosmina DuIa and Sevgi Inar They drew 0-0 in the return leg in Poland.DuIa, who scored twice in last yearand#39s Champions League campaign, remained a key component of Konakand#39s offense this season.

The Romanian forward nailed the net five times against Rigas on August, but she and her new teammates up front failed to strike effectively against the Swiss.In January, long-time coach Huseyin Tavur added YaImur Uraz to the front line and she scored three of the 11 goals against the Latvian first-timers.

Tavur has been with the team since 2006. Ebru Topu, who scored both of Konakand#39s critical goals against FC Minsk, joined the fold in July.

Top of the heapIn 2012-13, Konak won its first Turkish Womenand#39s First Football League title. The womenand#39s team was founded just a few short years before in 2006.

It finished 14th out of 14 teams in the womenand#39s league. From there, Konak crept up in the standings each year until it finished third in 2009-10 and became runner-up in 2010-11.

The next year it finished fifth before returning to win its two consecutive championship titles.Konak had a flawless record when the club won its current domestic championship.

Its undefeated streak of 36 matches spans the entire 2013-14 season and beyond, as its last league defeat came in November 2012.It may take a while before a Turkish club, even one improving as quickly as Konak Belediyespor, can log away such impressive winning streaks in international competition.

Germany-born midfielder Cansu YaI admitted that womenand#39s football in Turkey was nowhere near that of Germany, which is easily the most successful nation with eight Womenand#39s Champions League titles between four of its teams. Next in line, Sweden and France have just two apiece.

However, their startling performance last year did garner some positive attention. UEFA listed Konak as one of the teams to watch this year — alongside Zurich.

Tavur noted that one of the cluband#39s goals is to become a regular at the Champions League. Two times might not be enough to say regular, but Konak made a good impression at its debut.

The team is definitely on the right path, it just needs to keep up its momentum and come back next year with one more experience under its belt.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman