FOOTBALL >Başakşehir, Konyaspor to make Europa League debuts
Beaten by Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League play-offs, Turkey’s Başakşehir will make its UEFA Europa League group stage debut this season against Bulgaria’s Ludogorets as Konyaspor visits Marseille.
Başakşehir, the runner-up in last season’s domestic title race, is highly motivated after it won 3-2 against city rival Fenerbahçe away, a first in its short history.
Coach Abdullah Avcı also welcomes the return of Brazilian midfielder Mossoro from injury.
Ludogorets from Bulgaria’s Razgrad is without a win in eight European away matches.
In the other game of Group C, Hoffenheim will host Braga.
Last season’s Turkey Cup winner Konyaspor will face a difficult test against France’s Marseille in a bid to taste its first win in Europe.
“This is a game that might offer us a shortcut in our route of improvement or it might help us see ourselves from a different point of view,” Konyaspor boss Mustafa Reşit Akçay told journalists before the game.
“I hope everything goes as we planned,” he said, noting that his side is a team in making with new arrivals.
Akçay is back in the group stage for a third time, having coached Trabzonspor and Osmanlıspor in past editions. As a youth specialist, he notably went unbeaten in his first 19 games in UEFA competition.
Konyaspor made its European competition debut in last year’s UEFA Europa League group stage, but failed to win in six matches.
Konya and Marseille’s Group I rivals Vitoria SC and Salsburg will meet in Portugal’s Guimaraes.
Notable names in this year’s group stage are England’s Arsenal Spanish sides Villarreal and Real Sociedad as well as Italy’s Milan and Lazio.
Premier League giant Arsenal will make its Europa League bow, slipping into the continent’s second-string competition after nearly two decades in the Champions League, against German side Cologne at the Emirates Stadium in London.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said his team would take the competition seriously despite the disappointment of missing out on the Champions League after 19 consecutive seasons in Europe’s premier competition.
“We will take it seriously but the priority is to focus on the Premier League and combining the two,” he said in comments reported by Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
Seven-time European champions Milan has an easier task, with ties against Austria Vienna, AEK Athens and Rijeka of Croatia in Group D as they continue their return to European competition for the first time since 2013-14.
Smarting after a 4-1 Serie A defeat at Lazio at the weekend, Milan opens its group-stage campaign at Austria Vienna after coming through two qualifying rounds.
Wayne Rooney’s Everton will have a stern test against Atalanta away in Group E, which also includes French club Lyon, whose Groupama Stadium will host the final on May 16.