Istanbul is ready for Wednesday's UEFA Super Cup showdown between two English giants, Liverpool and Chelsea at renowned Vodafone Park by the Bosporus, in a match that will make history as the first major men's European final to be refereed by a woman.
For any Liverpool fan, Istanbul brings back memories of the thrilling comeback from 3-0 down to win the Champions League final against Italy's AC Milan in 2005. The Super Cup is little more than a ceremonial opener for the new European season, but a win could give Champions League winner Liverpool and already struggling Europa League winner Chelsea some valuable early-season momentum.
For Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool, it's a chance to continue a strong start to the season after their 4-1 thrashing of Norwich on the opening day of the Premier League on Friday. New manager Frank Lampard and Chelsea must bounce back from a 4-0 loss to Manchester United.
Liverpool is unbeaten against English teams in Europe over six games stretching back to 2009, when it lost a Champions League quarterfinal to Chelsea.
Thousands of fans from throughout the world started arriving in Istanbul with the city's landmarks swarmed with tourists wearing red and blue jerseys of both teams. The 15-million metropolis recently saw an exodus of its residents for the Islamic festival of Qurban Bayram (Feast of the Sacrifice), also known as Eid al-Adha, which started Sunday and will last until Wednesday. However, hundreds of thousands left the city early on Friday and not expected to arrive by Sunday and many companies extended the official holiday period until the weekend, providing fans the opportunity of a less-crowded and calm Istanbul experience.
Chelsea squad arrived in Istanbul at 01:00a.m. on early Tuesday while Liverpool is expected to arrive by 05:00 p.m.
Dapak Patel, a U.K. citizen of Indian origin, was among the lucky Liverpudlians who witnessed the "Miracle of Istanbul." Patel and his wife arrived in the city's newly-inaugurated airport with scheduled Turkish Airlines flight from London.
Shahid Butt, accompanied by his three children, traveled from Pakistan's Lahore to London and then to Istanbul to watch the Super Cup match. Their guess for the score was a 2-0 win for Liverpool.
Muhammed Ahmao arrived in Istanbul from Tunisia with three friends, of which one supports the London side. He told Anadolu Agency that they will spend four to five days in the city, which he described as the "capital of football."
Wearing Liverpool jerseys, Galya and Alexandra traveled from Russia's St. Petersburg to watch the long-awaited match and spend the next day to visit Istanbul's numerous landmarks.
A group of 50 Azerbaijani fans of the Merseyside club traveled more than 2,200 kilometers by bus from Baku in journey that took them 33 hours.
According to the Istanbul Governorate, Liverpool and Chelsea fans will be encouraged to gather in two separate neighborhoods. The gathering point for The Reds is designated as Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue, home to the centuries-old high school that formed Istanbul giants Galatasaray. Meanwhile, The Blues will be present in central Beşiktaş, home to one of Turkey's most successful clubs and without a doubt the most passionate fan base. Inaugurated in April 2016 with a capacity of nearly 42,000 and replacing that served Istanbulites between 1947 and 2013, the Vodafone Park is the home ground of Beşiktaş football team.
Roads leading to the stadium, located midway between Taksim and Beşiktaş, will be closed to traffic between 01:00 p.m. and 04:00 a.m. Authorities warned fans to arrive early to avoid possible traffic issues since the stadium is located at a key location for downtown Istanbul's traffic. Police squads from Turkey's emergency, special operations, anti-terror, nautical and aerial departments will be on duty. Mounted police will serve in the areas near the stadium.
Fresh off refereeing the Women's World Cup final, France's Stéphanie Frappart will be in the spotlight when she controls Wednesday's game.
Frappart is no stranger to men's games after making her debut in the French league in April. She was calm under pressure when the United States beat the Netherlands in July's Women's World Cup final, using the video assistant referee system to award the penalty for the U.S. to take the lead.
"Stéphanie has proved over a number of years that she is one of the best female referees, not just in Europe but across the world," UEFA refereeing chief Roberto Rosetti said this month. "She has the ability to officiate on the biggest stage."
Frappart is not quite the first woman to referee European men's games — Swiss referee Nicole Petignat handled three UEFA Cup qualifiers over a decade ago. Frappart is by far the most high profile.
Frappart will also lead a team of predominately female officials, and be accompanied by assistant referees Manuela Nicolosi of France and Michelle O'Neal from the Republic of Ireland. Turkey's top-ranking referee Cüneyt Çakır will be joining the trio as the fourth official.
One game into the season is a bit early for an injury crisis. However, after first-choice goalkeeper Alisson hurt his calf on Friday, Klopp was left with new signing Adrian as his only fit 'keeper.
Two other backup options have injuries too, forcing Liverpool into the emergency signing of 35-year-old former Middlesbrough goalkeeper Andy Lonergan.
Lonergan spent time with Liverpool in pre-season and will be on the bench behind Adrian for the Super Cup despite never having played in the Premier League or any European competition before.
He's on a short-term contract and is likely to leave Liverpool once Alisson's calf injury clears up — expected in the next few weeks, Klopp says — Or when 20-year-old Irish reserve Caoimhin Kelleher regains fitness.
In attack, Sadio Mane could make his first start this season after coming on as a substitute against Norwich.
This will be one last reminder of just how dominant English clubs were in Europe last season, with the Premier League providing all four finalists in the Champions League and Europa League.
Liverpool was the last English winner of the Super Cup 14 years ago against CSKA Moscow and there has never before been an all-English game. Chelsea won against Real Madrid in 1998 but lost to Atletico Madrid in 2012 and Bayern Munich a year later.
Spanish clubs won the last five Super Cups, four of which were all-Spanish affairs.
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