It had been a long flight to Turkey the day before, they had been able to get a quick training session on the pitch before heading back to the hotel to eat and sleep. Now they were heading back to the pitch and it was much louder this team than when they had been training as Fener fans lined the streets shouting and with flares around the team bus to try and intimidate the players. Alex decided the best thing to do for his players was looked calm so he simply talked tactics with Philippe as calmly as he could. He had found out a few days ago that Brugge lost a playoff to get into the CL to Fener which was not a good omen to him..
Alex went over the tactics again, above the noise of the crowd this time before his team walked out to what you could call a “Lively” atmosphere. He was almost unable to think as he walked to his technical area to watch the game.
Fenerbahce got the game underway and got the ball wide to Nani who was able to sprint past Meunier and hit in a cross but, it was poor and Butelle dived out and claimed the ball.
Less than two minutes later Alex looked on unhappily as Nani flew past Meunier to have space to hit in a cross. Densil headed the ball away but, only as far as Ozan. He passed to Markovic who was open six yards out. As Alex yelled for offside Markovic turned and shot. Joao Paulo dived in the way of the shot and the loose ball was smashed clear by Izquierdo. Alex called over Meunier as Brugge had a throw in high up in the Fener half. “You have to drop deeper or Nani will blast by you every time. Drop a bit so he can’t get past you but, not to deep so he can cut inside and shoot.” Alex was pretty sure none of it was taken in by him though.
Two minutes later Nani was in behind Meunier. He was flagged offside though and Butelle launched the free kick forwards. Brugge won the ball in midfield and twice Vanaken tried to get the ball wide to the left to get past the Fener right back. The third time he passed the ball wide Joao Paulo got in space and just cut the ball back to Izquierdo in the box. He took a couple of touches and Ozan sprinted over Izquierdo touched the ball inside and ran into Ozan and went down. Alex and the Brugge bench threw their hands up to claim a penalty. The referee looked set to ignore the claim until the linesman indicated for it and the referee provoked the wrath of the fans by pointing to the spot.
With normal penalty taker Timmy Simons on the bench Felipe Gedoz was the one who took the ball to have the chance to give Brugge a valuable away goal. He stepped up and hit the ball in statistically the place place to hit a penalty, the middle. Unfortunately, stats are useless and the goalie stayed in the middle and parried the shot before it was blasted out for a corner. It was probably a fair result and as the Fener fans celebrated Alex’s head was in his hands at the waste of such a good chance, especially to get an away goal. The corner was claimed by the keeper and Alex looked to the sky.
With Meunier staying deeper and Brugge unable to create anything on the counter the game went into half time 0-0 and very tight. “We’re defending well and keeping it tight which is good. We have to keep out concentration up as they have the ability to capitalise on a split second lapse. Up front we have to keep it simple no fancy tricks play the simple pass and move forward. Don’t overcommit though conceding on a counter is not acceptable.” An ineffective Vossen was pulled off for Pereira who Alex hoped could bully the Fenerbahce defence.
For the first fifteen minutes all was going to plan and Alex was pleased. His side were working hard and denying Fener the chance to get open near the goal. Erkin hit a throw in to Van Persie out wide and Alex could sense the trouble as it pulled Meunier wide and with one pass Nani was running at Zokora. Nani turned on the jets and breezed past Zokora before firing in a cross. It was an awful cross to defend and as it went past two Brugge defenders they couldn’t touch it or they would put it in their own goal. Just as it past by the real danger zone Markovic stuck a foot out and redirected the ball on target. Butelle dived out full stretch to try and reach the shot but, couldn’t and Markovic ran off celebrating as the noise in the stadium went off the scale.
“Come on keep your heads up. We score once and we are ahead.” Alex yelled from the sidelines although the roar of the crowd meant he doubted the bench heard what he said. From kickoff Brugge passed the ball around and tried playing it long to Pereira but, Fener easily won the ball back. Diego got the ball and no one came out to close him down so he ran unopposed from the halfway line to just outside the box. From there he payed the ball wide to Gokhan and he hit in a cross first time. Denswil didn’t react to Van Persie’s run for the ball and he was wide open six yards out and smashed the ball past the powerless Butelle. In just 71 seconds the game had gone from 0-0 to 2-0. Alex had warned his team about losing concentration and for the second goal half his team had.
After 5 minutes where Brugge offered little going forward Alex decided to go 4-4-2 and try and get an away goal despite the risk of conceding going up. He pulled off Zokora and put on N’Djeng after 66 minutes.
From the next goal kick Alex’s front two interacted as he hoped. N’Djeng heading the ball down for Pereira. He hit the ball back to Vanaken who played it wide to Gedoz. He cut inside and lay the ball back to Vanaken. He tried to return the pass to Gedoz but, Gedoz was pulled down by Kadalec to stop him receiving it. Alex was about to appeal for a foul until he saw Pereira had made a run and the ball had gone just where he had anticipated to put him 1 on 1 with the keeper. From a tight angle Pereira tried to find the near post and Alex could only watch as the ball bobbled inches wide of the post. Another good chance missed he thought.
After 71 minutes the risk of two upfront showed. Brugge lost the ball and it was hit to Nani at the halfway line. HE skinned three Brugge players and as he bore down on goal it looked like it could be a classic goal. His shot was poor though and Butelle easily held the effort. Almost a classic from Nani.
After 75 minutes Nani was played in again with a great pass by Volkan Sen. He copied Pereira and dragged his shot just wide of the far post and out for a goal kick. Butelle hit the free kick up to Gedoz and he beat a man before his pass was intercepted. The ball was as usual instantly hit to Nani. Just as he got up a head of steam Meunier slid in and the ball flew 20 yards into Ozan in the middle of the pitch. He took a couple of touches before playing the ball wide to Volkan Sem. He hit in a deep cross and Nani sprinted to get under the ball and he easily fired in at the back post to put Fener three goals ahead of Brugge. Alex pushed his team up as he figured the tie was all but, over if they didn’t get an away goal.
After 83 minutes Vanaken hit the ball wide to Joao Paulo he took the ball down and then fell down screaming in pain under the tackle of Gokhan. The ball was hit long and Butelle hit it out for a throw in so that Joao could receive treatment. Thierry raced onto the pitch and the second he got to Joao Paulo he signalled for a stretcher and a sub. Alex told De Bock to warm up and looked on in increasing concern as Joao’s leg was put into an inflatable cast and he was stretchered off. Thierry walked past with the stretcher and said. “Probably broken ankle off to the hospital to check. Probably done for the season.” Alex cursed as De Bock went on at left back. Joao had been in wonderful form and Alex knew how the pain of that injury and felt for Joao.
As the fourth officials board went up Fener pressed forwards again. Nani passed to Hasan Ali on the overlap and he had acres of space to whip in a cross. Fernando got his head to it and Butelle dived and got his fingertips to the ball to deflect it onto the bar. The ball bounced away and Denswil smashed it away. Fener just held onto the ball to end the game three goals up.
Alex had intended to launch into his team about losing concentration for the second goal but, he could see they were all drained and had given there all against a team that was undeniably better than his. There front five players earned more than everyone at Brugge including the youngsters and staff.
“We created enough we still have a chance” Alex said but the words were hollow and the players knew they were out barring a miracle.
Alex got a call from Thierry as he left the stadium. "He's just had an X-Ray it is a broken ankle so he will miss three months which is the rest of the season."
Alex swore loudly. "And Vanaken will miss just over a week with a head injury all of that for a 3-0 loss."
"Welcome to small club football." Was the response Alex got. "At least in Europe we are. We did well to get this far."
"True" Alex conceded "Anyway I'm about to run the gauntlet of fans talk later."