Fenerbahce's Brazilian influence is on the the cusp of delivering what fans could only dream about a few years ago, reaching the Champions League semifinals.
|Kazim Kazim of Fenerbahce celebrates with team |
mate Mehmet Aurelio [GALLO/GETTY]
The Turkish team rallied to beat Chelsea 2-1 at home in the first leg of the quarterfinals on Wednesday, and could pull off a huge upset by knocking the Premier League team out in the return leg at Stamford Bridge next week.
With coach Zico and six of his players hailing from Brazil, many are crediting the South American influence for the team's results.
The 55-year-old coach, however, sees other reasons behind the success.
"When you look at the number of quality players we have, we are a bit behind Europe's other top teams,'' Zico said.
"But in terms of having a team spirit, I don't think we lack anything.''
This year was the first time the Istanbul club even made it out of the Champions League group stage.
It then upset Sevilla in the first knockout round, surprising many European experts and even some of its own fans.
"No achievement comes without hard work,'' Zico said. "We came here working hard. But, also, faith is a most important factor. I am trying to make my players believe that they can succeed.''
The club was eliminated by AZ Alkmaar in the Uefa Cup's round of 32 last year, but was boosted this season by the arrival of Roberto Carlos from Real Madrid.
The former Brazil left back, who retired from international soccer after the 2006 World Cup, joined Fenerbahce last June.
The side now has six Brazilians among its regular starters, along with a Chilean and a Uruguayan.
"These players played important games in the past,'' Zico said. "When you have them in your team, they give it a character.''
Zico joined the club in 2006 after having coached Japan for four years.
Although his contract ends this season, Zico said he has a long-term plan to make Fenerbahce one of Europe's top clubs, and a regular in the Champions League knockout stages.
His first obstacle is Chelsea on Tuesday.
"Our rivals there will benefit their fans' support and try to beat us,'' he said.
"But we will keep our fighting soul and be closer to winning.''