No fan of a big club wants to play in the Europa League, but sometimes you have to put up with it anyways. Sure, it's not the Champions League, but sometimes it can be fun anyways. Probably the best part is seeing your team face off against clubs that you may have barely even heard of before.
That was certainly the case for Napoli fans in the group stage this season. Few fans had heard of Sparta Prague, BSC Young Boys, or Slovan Bratislava before the partenopei were drawn against them. Their round of 32 opponent, Turkish side Trabzonspor, is better known, but still hardly exists as more than a team on the periphery of awareness for most fans.
So who are Trabzonspor? Should we care about them? Are they interesting at all?
While Trabzonspor lack the sheer weight of history possessed by Fenerbahce or Galatasaray or even Besiktas, but that doesn't mean they're a club without successes. They've won the Super Lig - Turkey's top division - six times and been the runner up eight other times, though they haven't won the competition since 1984. They've also won the Turkish Cup eight times, most recently in 2010.
They've had much less success in Europe, only playing in the current iteration of the Champions League once, when they finished third in a group that included Inter in 2011. In any version of the Champions League or Europa league, they've never advanced past the last 16 clubs, and last season in this stage they lost to Juventus 4-0 on aggregate.
How they got here
Trabzonspor qualified for the Europa League by finishing fourth in the Super Lig last season, 21 points behind champions Fenerbahce. That put them in to the final qualifying round of this season's Europa League, where they were drawn against Russian side FK Rostov. They beat the Russians 2-0 at home in the first leg, and were able to hold them at bay to finish the away leg with a scoreless draw, putting them through to the group stage.
The Turkish side were drawn in to a fairly straightforward group, with only Polish side Legia Warsaw capable of offering them much challenge on paper. That held true as the group stage progressed - Trabzonspor lost both matches to Warsaw, but won three of their other four matches to easily qualify from their group in second place behind Warsaw, who won five of their six matches and only gave up two goals in the group stage. In contrast, Trabzonspor's leaky defense were only able to keep one shutout in their six group matches.
Trabzonspor may not be an exceptionally talented side, but they do have some intriguing names. Their leading goalscorer in the league is Paraguayan international Oscar Cardozo, who has scored 12 of their 37 league goals, though he has yet to find the back of the net in the Europa League.
Napoli fans will certainly remember Kevin Constant, the former AC Milan and Genoa fullback who now mostly serves as a workhorse central midfielder for Trabzonspor. This is his first season in Turkey after being sold by Milan in the summer, but he's done fairly well since making the jump. He won't be in action on Thursday, though, as he's suspended for one Europa League match for yellow card accumulation.
Playmaker Mehmet Ekici is also suspended, but when he's back for the San Paolo leg of this tie next week, he'll be a force to watch. The Turkish international is something of a poor man's Marek Hamsik, with silky skill on the ball that lets him create and score with equal aplomb. Napoli fans will probably also remember Jose Bosingwa, the Portuguese fullback who was part of the Chelsea side that knocked Napoli out of the Champions League three years ago en route to winning the title.