Eight years after Tromsø IL denied Galatasaray AŞ a place in the UEFA Cup group stage, Agnar Christensen's men are aiming to repeat the trick in the UEFA Europa League against Beşiktaş JK on Thursday night.
Although Tromsø will take a 2-1 lead to Istanbul after goals by Thomas Bendiksen and Welshman Josh Pritchard cancelled out an early Hugo Almeida strike, Beşiktaş still seem like favourites to prevail in the play-off. One of the reasons is Tromsø's domestic form, Christensen having had to deal with the sale of key players like midfielder Ruben Yttergård Jenssen, Kara Mbodj and most recently Valenciennes FC-bound midfielder Salio Ciss.
The side from the north of Norway have already seen off NK Celje, İnter Bakı PİK and FC Differdange 03 in the UEFA Europa League – losing one leg each time, and only beating the Luxembourg representatives on penalties – but they have struggled in the Norwegian Premier Division, picking up only two points in their last eight games and living in fear of relegation.
"We are working very hard to try and turn this around," Christensen said. "We are quite solid at the back, but need to be more creative going forward. The players are very loyal to what we are trying to do."
Christensen inherited a side in transition when he took over as coach from Per-Mathias Høgmo before this season but still expected to compete in the top half of the division. A lack of consistency has been their Achilles heel, but Christensen knows his team are capable of repeating Tromsø's biggest night of European football (other than perhaps the 1997 defeat of Chelsea FC) – the heroic 2-1 aggregate win against Galatasaray in the 2005 UEFA Cup first round, a 1-0 home success followed by a 1-1 away draw.
Since then they have lost two UEFA Europa League play-offs – in 2009/10 against Athletic Club and last season versus FK Partizan despite a 3-2 first-leg win. Christensen said: "Just to beat Beşiktaş in one match is quite an achievement for us, and we know how hard it will be to knock them out. But we travel to Turkey with confidence."
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