Put any two from Istanbul giants Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahce, the undisputed big three in Turkey, and you are guaranteed a hard-fought encounter overflowing with enthusiastic zeal. "The people in Turkey are extremely passionate and would never give up on the team they love," up-and-coming Turkey international Arda Turan told FIFA.com just a few months ago.
Saturday’s Istanbul derby between Besiktas and Fenerbahce represents much more than a big-name duel with enormous local significance. The clubs represent different continents, as one is located in Europe and the other in Asia. An even greater buzz of excitement infuses the mega-city of more than 12 million straddling the Bosporus whenever the fixture comes around.
The Bosporus connects the continents of Europe and Asia, but it forms a dividing line between the fans – at least for the duration of the game. Besiktas Jimnastik Kulubu - Besiktas Gymnastics Club – was founded in 1903 in the European working-class suburb which gives the club its name and is the nation’s oldest sports organisation.
Galatasaray came into being two years later in the European heart of the city. Fenerbahce, firmly rooted in the Asian sector, were founded another two years later in 1907. However, the rivalry between the clubs, now more than a century long and counting, concerns a number of factors above and beyond mere geography.
Facts and figures
Fenerbahce and Galatasaray share the mantle of Turkey’s most successful clubs with 17 league titles apiece, followed by Besiktas on 13. However, the Black Eagles lead the way in the cup with eight triumphs to Fener’s four, although when it comes to the crossing of swords in the league, the men in black and white have been waiting more than four years for a win. Their last success dates back to April 2005, followed by six defeats and two draws in the eight meetings since then. Even last season, when Besiktas stormed to a league and cup double, they fell 2-1 to Fenerbahce both home and away. Curiously enough, both meetings the previous season ended with the same result by exactly the same score.
Looking back over the last decade as a whole, Fener have won more than half the meetings between the teams - 11 to be exact - and lost only six. Seven of those wins came away from home.
The showdown between Besiktas and Fenerbahce pits the oldest of the Istanbul big three against the youngest. And as if it were needed, recent history and specifically the last two meetings between the clubs adds yet more spice to an always edgy duel.
In May 2009, Besiktas completed the domestic double with a 4-2 cup final victory over Fener, prolonging the Yellow Canaries’ cup anguish by yet another year: Fenerbahce last claimed the trophy in 1983. "Winning the double is just fantastic and I’m overjoyed. It feels like a volcano inside me right now," enthused coach Mustafa Denizli. The achievement saw Denizli write history on not one but two counts: he is the first Turkish coach to lead Besiktas to championship glory, and the first coach of any nationality to guide all three Istanbul giants to the Super Lig title.
Just a few months later, the Yellow Canaries exacted partial revenge by beating the Black Eagles 2-0 to win the Turkish Supercup. The outcome was the same as the previous Supercup meeting between the teams back in 2007, although the score on that occasion was 2-1.
Saturday’s match also sees Fener boss Christoph Daum return to a former stamping ground. The 56-year-old coached the men in black and white from 1993 to 1996, winning the cup in 1994 and the league in 1995, and is a self-confessed admirer of the current line-up. "Besiktas play good football, and I’m not just talking about results. If you analyse the way they play, they’re exceptionally well-organised," the German supremo said.
And regardless of whoever wins at the weekend, one thing can already be said with a fair degree of certainty: the two Istanbul titans will be there or thereabouts at the top when it comes to handing out the trophies in late spring next year.