Fenerbahçe, or simply the Yellow Canaries, was lucky to snatch a late 1-1 draw with little-known Romanian outfit Vaslui in their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round first-leg match at İstanbul’s Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium on Wednesday night.
Fenerbahçe Chairman Aziz Yıldırım, released recently from jail in connection with alleged match-fixing, was also in the stadium to watch this game.
The Canaries needed to outscore Vaslui in their home leg at Kadıköy, obtain a strategic advantage and turn next week’s return leg in Romania into a formality. But that was mere delusion.
After a goalless first half, it was the Canaries that went down in the 75th minute when 23-year-old Vaslui midfielder Liviu Antal scored to put the visiting Romanians ahead. Antal, capitalizing on a poor clearance by newly signed defender Egemen Korkmaz in the Fener box, made no mistake in putting the ball into the back of the net.
That goal awoke Fenerbahçe from its trance, so to speak, and coach Aykut Kocaman had to act immediately to remedy the situation. He brought in Senegal striker Moussa Sow, who was nursing a slight injury, to replace midfielder Mehmet Topuz.
Thereafter, it was the Canaries all the way as they pressed and pressed but could not find the elusive equalizer. That was until the 90th minute, when Elazığ-born right back Bekir İrtegun towered above the Vaslui defense to head home a cross from the right flank by veteran Brazilian playmaker Alex de Souza.
That goal gave the Canaries the much-needed equalizer but it was too little and far too late to give them victory.
The draw, however, has given added importance to the second leg in Romania. It is no longer going to be a tourist trip for Kocaman and his Canaries, as had been expected before Wednesday. They will now need victory or a draw greater than 1-1 in order to avoid an early exit.