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TURKEY > Big-spending Galatasaray out to down Schalke

ISTANBUL - Agence France-Presse

Fueled by the signings of two superstars, Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder, Galatasaray hopes to beat struggling Schalke 04 tonight when they meet in the first leg of the Champions League last 16

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Galatasaray's Ivorian striker Didier Drogba and Dutch teammate Wesley Sneijder (L) attend a tranining session on February 19, 2013. Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim has backed Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder to be a success together as they seek a place in the Champions League quarter-final with Shalke 04 on February 20. AFP photo

Galatasaray's Ivorian striker Didier Drogba and Dutch teammate Wesley Sneijder (L) attend a tranining session on February 19, 2013. Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim has backed Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder to be a success together as they seek a place in the Champions League quarter-final with Shalke 04 on February 20. AFP photo

Big-spending Galatasaray will be looking to carry its strong Champions League group stage form into tonight’s last 16, first-leg tie when it hosts a Schalke 04 side low on confidence.

The Turkish side finished its Group H campaign with wins over Cluj, Manchester United and Braga then pulled off the biggest coup of January’s transfer window by signing Dutch star Wesley Sneijder and Ivory Coast veteran striker Didier Drogba.

Having won last season’s Champions League title with Chelsea, Drogba came off the bench to score on his debut in last week’s 2-1 win at bottom side Akhisar Belediye to go seven points clear in the Turkish Super Lig Table.

“These investments will pay off,” said Galatasaray president Unal Aysal, who is eager to bring Champions League success to Istanbul.

“The revenue from the Champions League will cover the costs.”

Galatasaray has lost just once at the Ali Sami Yen Sports Complex Arena in the league this season and Fatih Terim’s team is looking for four European wins in a row against Schalke.

The hosts hope to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2001, while Schalke has reached the last eight twice in recent campaigns, in 2010/11 when it was semifinalist, and in 2007/08.

Although Schalke won its group, including an impressive away win at Arsenal in October, it has just one victory in its last 12 matches to drop from second to ninth.

Schalke is unbeaten in Europe this season and has been boosted by the return of Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who is fit again after suffering an eye injury.

Royal Blues’ coach Jens Keller, who took over from Huub Stevens in December, makes his Champions League debut and has been told his job is safe, until the end of the season.

Having sold midfielder Lewis Holtby to Tottenham Hotspur, in January, Schalke brought in Michel Bastos from French side Lyon and the Brazil star has scored three goals in his last three games, including both goals at Mainz.

“Even before I made the switch from Lyon to Gelsenkirchen I knew about the quality of this Schalke side,” said Bastos.

“The team have the ability to solve the current problems.”

While Schalke showed some fighting spirit to twice come from behind on Feb. 16, captain Benedikt Höwedes said his side must build on that.

“We showed morale and fought until the final whistle,” said the Germany defender.

“We now want to take the momentum with us to Istanbul.”

Five of the Galatasaray team were born in Germany including midfielder Hamit Altıntop who played for Schalke between 2003 and 2007.

“I played my first Champions League match while at Schalke 04 and it will be nice to face them,” said the 30-year-old.

“There are no easy games at this level.

“The draw may seem easier than it could have been, but I know the German culture: they will be a team high on discipline.

“An interesting couple of meetings lie ahead.”

With a strong Turkish community in Gelsenkirchen, Galatasaray can count on some support at the Veltins Arena for the second leg in Germany on March 12.

February/20/2013

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