Following a pulsating 3-2 win over Braga to complete the 7-2 aggregate triumph, Fiorentina turned its attention to UEFA headquarters, where the Conference League draw for the Round of 16 took place. The Viola were certainly a bit anxious because, having failed to top their group (thanks, Gollini). they could’ve faced any of the big teams. While West Ham, Villarreal, Nice, and AZ aren’t exactly a murderers’ row, they’re all good squads. Fiorentina avoided them all for now and will instead face Turkish side Sivasspor next month.
Sivasspor is based in Sivas, a town in central Turkey and the administrative capital of the Sivas district. Founded in 1932 and merged with a couple other local clubs in 1967, the Yigidos spent most of their history in the second and third tiers until winning the Second League in 2005 to earn their debut in the Super Lïg the following season. They dropped back down in 2015-2016 but returned the following year and are now in their 6th straight year in the top flight.
Over the past 3 years, though, Sivasspor has become a force in Turkey, qualifying for European competition and even winning the Türkiye Kupası in 2022 for their first major silverware. They topped Group G with 11 points, 1 ahead of CFR Cluj and 3 ahead of Slavia Prague, to get here; this is the furthest the club has ever progressed in Europe, so you’d better believe they’ll want to keep it going.
Much like Fiorentina, Sivasspor have impressed in cup competitions this season while wilting in the league. They sit in 13th place, largely due to 8 straight winless outings to begin the season, and have only won 6 games, although they scored a big win over Beşiktaş last time they played. They’ve also progressed to the quarterfinals of the Türkiye Kupası this year.
Led for the second time—he first took the helm in 2010 and stayed for 3 years—by Beşiktaş legend Rıza Çalımbay (nicknamed “the Atomic Ant” during his playing days), Sivasspor generally play a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system. They average under 46% possession and are near the top of the league for interceptions and tackles, which generally hints at a rather deep block, although their sterling disciplinary record—2nd-fewest fouls and fewest bookings—suggests that they aren’t just about kicking people.
Their leading scorers are CF Mohammed Yatabaré and LW Max Gradel, who’ve each got 5 in the league. They’re 37 and 35, respectively, which highlights Sivasspor’s age: they’re the oldest team in the Super Lïg and average about 4 years older than Fiorentina. While they’ve got a ton of experience, both domestically and internationally (Gradel, RW Ahmed Musa, CB Aaron Appondingoyé, CF Jordy Caicedo), the Viola may look to press them and hope to tire them out.
It’s also worth noting that Sivasspor haven’t played since 4 February. Soccer in Turkey is currently on pause due to the 6 February earthquake that killed over 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria, injured more than twice that many, and left millions homeless, displaced, or otherwise vulnerable. While Sivas wasn’t in the main strike area, the quake did destroy several buildings. Donate to the Red Cross/Red Crescent relief fund if you can.