BRENDAN WIMBERLY - Wednesday, August 8, 2012
With the second leg of Europa League's third qualifying round set to kickoff, defender Etchu Tabe is hoping he and his Kuopion Palloseura can generate shockwaves by holding their edge over Bursaspor.
Despite struggling in the Finnish Veikkausliiga, Tabe and KuPS have embarked on a magnificent run through the early stages of the Champions Leagues little brother.
KuPS began their European quest in July when they squared off against Welsh team Llanelli. After defeating Llanelli 2-1 at home, they tied 1-1 in Wales to progress to the second round where they faced Israeli club Maccabi Netanya and fellow American defender Leo Krupnik.
Few gave KuPS much of a chance when they headed to Israel, but Tabe and his teammates were able to come away with a shock 2-1 win.
"It started in Israel," Tabe told YA. "When we won that game in Israel. We were like, 'Wow, we can really hang in there with some tough teams.'"
After their big win in Israel, KuPS came home to defend their slim one goal lead. Despite allowing a 40th minute goal, Tabe and his fellow defenders shut the door on the Israelis for the last 50 minutes, allowing KuPS to advance via away goals.
"Our confidence kept growing and growing," Tabe said, "It's history making for the club and the players."
With Maccabi in their rearview mirror, the Finnish team drew Turkish squad Bursaspor in the third round of qualifying.
As opposed to allowing themselves to get intimidated by the daunting task at hand, Tabe explained that KuPS took a very relaxed approach to the Bursaspor game.
"The coaches and the organization have been telling us, 'You guys have nothing to lose,'" the Cameroon born Tabe said. "'Just have fun out there. See how far we can go.'"
That temperment served them well. In the first match, the Turks made their way to Finland where, once again, KuPS stood firmly in the face of pressure. Bursaspor threw countless attacks toward Tabe and his backline, but each time they were denied.
"When the ref blew that whistle, I was like 'Oh my God is this really happening.'" Tabe said of the 1-0 victory.
KuPS have some cause for concern as their currently situated in 12th and final place in the Veikkausliiga. In Finland however, only the bottom team gets relegated, and despite their current standing, Tabe is sure his team will be able to fight off relegation.
"We're going to stay in the league for sure. With the group of guys we have, we'll stay up."
"In the beginning we had quite a few injuries, with some key players and that kind of hurt us. We started doing good right when the Europa League started." Tabe explained, "When it started, we had to rest a lot of players during the league as well. It's been a roller coaster ride during the league."
Fortunately for KuPS, the Europa League is a different competition from the Veikkausligga, and though the opponents may be a little tougher, they have been able to improve their perfomance to answer the task.
"We've been able to do very good in the Europa League, defensively we were very focused." he explained of his teams mentality. "It's different when you play in the Europa League as opposed to the league. In the Europa League it's another level and it's one game and you're dead or one game and you go further. We just kept our structure and try to do the best we can."
The first performance against Bursaspor brought the best out of Tabe and his teammates, and going down to Turkey and achieving a result will certainly be a difficult task, but as long as Bursaspor doesn't win by more than one goal, the Finns will give themselves the opportunity to progress to the next round, at which point they're only one round away from the group stage.
Although the Cameroonian-born American has received some interest from clubs in his adopted homeland, his current club's standing in European competition may have whetted his appetite to stay over in Europe for longer.
"It's just been talking, nothing solid. Given the opportunity I'd like to go [to the US], but with the way the Europa League is going now, I'd like to see what [happens]."
As for now, Tabe is focused on Thursday's match.
"Hopefully we can put another good performance out there and try to push this thing a little bit further."