Celtic v Fenerbahce: First round slip exposes flaws for Turks

By Liam McLeodBBC Scotland
Nani and company come to Celtic Park on Thursday
Nani and company come to Celtic Park on Thursday

Europa League Group A was always going to be intriguing.

The match-day one results have done nothing to alter that view with the plot already twisted more than could have been imagined.

As Celtic left Amsterdam frustrated that Ajax had snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat, group favourites - big-spending Turkish money-bags Fenerbahce - were succumbing to the unfancied Molde.

The bottom seeds from the little town in Romsdal county in north-west Norway with a population of little over 25,000, went to the bustling, thriving Eurasian city of Istanbul with a population of more than 14 million and won.

Like the respective city sizes, the squad assembled by Vitor Pereira at Fenerbahce was more than 10-times that of a Molde side who were more than plucky on the night.

Their incredible 3-1 success was no fluke with their second and third goals coming during a period of domination at the intimidating Sukru Saracoglu stadium as they ended a seven-game wait for a win away from home in Europe.

The top seeds were left flailing and apologising.

"We've embarrassed our fans," said talented young midfielder Ozan Tufan, a current Turkish international, after the loss.

Left-back Caner Erkin - another Turkey international of repute - echoed those sentiments: "The Molde team had more fight than us, we apologise to the fans."

Molde stunned Fenerbahce with a 3-1 win in Istanbul
Molde stunned Fenerbahce with a 3-1 win in Istanbul

Then we have the added distraction of an apparent fall-out between Pereira and marquee signing Robin van Persie.

The Dutch forward was acquired in the summer - alongside former Manchester United team-mate Nani - as a major statement of intent.

Here was a star man who would help Fenerbache reclaim the Super Lig title from hated rivals Galatasaray, who had that bit more in the tank in the closing months of last season.

However, the World Cup runner-up and Pereira do not appear to have hit it off, to say the least.

Van Persie was one of Pereira's scapegoats in the wake of their defeat to Molde, with the 32-year-old then making his feelings quite clear on what he thought about being benched for their subsequent game against Bursaspor.

His argument carried weight given he jumped off that bench and promptly scored the winning goal.

On Sunday, he was once again among the substitutes and once again he scored in what was the club's first domestic defeat of the season to Besiktas.

Like Celtic, Ajax and Molde, Fener failed in the Champions League qualifiers, sent tumbling by Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk.

The squad assembled was not meant for Europe's secondary competition.

Robin van Persie has been among the substitutes for Fenerbache recently
Van Persie has been among the substitutes for Fenerbache recently

Nani - who like van Persie has already sampled the European atmosphere at Celtic Park - was given a hero's welcome, in a blaze of ticker tape and clutching a bouquet of flowers on arrival in Istanbul.

The ambition of Fenerbache was illustrated in one chaotic pop-star-like arrival.

Just about every member of the 'Yellow Canaries' squad is of international class with Nani's Portuguese compatriots Raul Meireles and Bruno Alves, Brazil midfielder Diego and Michal Kadlec - the man who finally ended Craig Levein's hopes of guiding Scotland to Euro 2012 - helping to bolster a vastly experienced side.

Kadlec, who plays most of his football at centre-half these days, converted the disputed Czech Republic penalty won by Jan Rezek at Hampden Park in 2011.

Three home-grown defensive players who will likely start for the visitors all featured prominently for Turkey during their impressive 3-0 win over The Netherlands in a recent Euro 2016 qualifier in Tufan, Erkin and right-back Sener Ozbayrakli.

On the plus side for Celtic, Ronny Deila will not be upset that the lightning fast Serbia winger Lazar Markovic - on loan from Liverpool - will miss out with a hamstring injury.

Will Van Persie's recent goalscoring exploits and wealthy European experience be enough to return him to the starting XI at the expense of the Turkish league's top scorer of last season and fellow summer signing Fernandao?

If the Dutchman's Turkish swansong is to provide he and Fener with delight, the Celtic Park stage could be where the plot kick-starts.