In one of the strangest Turkish Cup finals in history, humble Anatolian side Akhisarspor picked up its first title Thursday and that too by defeating Istanbul giant Fenerbahçe.
I call it strange because no one really expected Akhisarpor to lift the title. The silent consensus was that the Super League title contender Fenerbahçe would sweep out Akhisar, which is just three points above the relegation zone.
Although the Anatolian minnows showed signs that they could be a tough nut to crack at the time, what came as a surprise is how it spread fear in Fenerbahçe's half and eventually scored three past it.
Though the 3-2 scoreline well depicts the fast-paced game, Fenerbahçe played an uncustomary game as Aykut Kocaman's side showed excessive alertness against Akhisarspor counterattacks. This was probably because Fener saw how league leader Galatasaray recently struggled against Akhisarspor counterattacks. But Kocaman's reaction on this occasion was somewhat disproportionate.
Normally, against a counterattacking team like Akhisarspor, it would be wise to build the game in the opponent's half and push them back to their penalty box as much as possible. But this would require a sophisticated plan about how to create time and space in Akhisarspor's defense, something Kocaman has struggled with throughout this entire season. Because he could not create a proper, repeatable game in the final third, he could not effectively use Mathieu Valbuena either and the opponent was aware of that fact.
Akhisarspor coach Okan Buruk pressured Fenerbahçe's wings and forced the side to attack through the center, where it lacks talent.
However, Kocaman's decision at that point was even stranger than his initial fear of Akhisarspor. He did not field Valbuena to utilize the space Akhisarspor left in the center, but rather tried to swim against the current and pushed through the wings even harder. Naturally, the attempts were mostly repelled by Akhisarspor and the forced crosses turned into lost balls and eventually helped Akhisarspor build counterattacks.
Akhisarspor were willing to defend and force Fenerbahçe to attack recklessly, something that would only help their cause. Kocaman reacted in the most suitable way for Akhisarspor's tactics and could not dare to stop the ball and build a game in the opponent's half.
Although Fenerbahçe scored two goals, if it had reverted to a possession strategy, it would not have conceded three goals and might even have scored with Valbuena's creativity. But Kocaman's vision, or the lack thereof, meant the battle was already lost.