Galatasaray hopes to break jinx at Saraçoğlu

Galatasaray hopes to break jinx at Saraçoğlu

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Galatasaray hopes to break jinx at Saraçoğlu

Galatasaray players run to the stands after beating Beşiktaş 3-2 Feb 26. The Lions have failed to roar at Fenerbahçe’s Şükrü Saracoğlu stadium for more than 12 years.

Even though this time they are not involved in a possible title-deciding match, matches between Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray are the hottest fixtures in Turkish football and Saturday’s meeting will be no exception.

The two will renew their centennial rivalry in a hotly-tipped Spor Toto Super League game, which nevertheless is not likely to have a big impact on the title race.

Leader Galatasaray is setting the pace with 69 points, with Fenerbahçe trailing by nine-points, with just four weeks left in the regular season.

If the playoff format had not been imposed at the beginning of the season, Galatasaray would claim its 18th league title – matching Fenerbahçe’s total - with just a draw at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium. Now, points-wise, it is not a title-decider and will even be of less importance than when the two teams meet in the upcoming playoffs.

According to the rules, the top four of regular season will have their points halved before going into the playoffs, so at the end of the season, this will mean just 1.5 point for the winner. The situation is a big handicap for Galatasaray, which would see its 30-week performance lose its importance and will have to cope with not only Fenerbahçe but also Trabzonspor and Beşiktaş in a title chase.

“Playoffs are like a rock that fell on our heads,” club president Ünal Aysal said last week.

But Fenerbahçe vs. Galatasaray games are never just about points and this time the derby comes with an even bigger edge.

For Galatasaray, it will be about ending a dismal away streak in derbies. The Lions have failed to roar at Fenerbahçe’s Şükrü Saracoğlu stadium for more than 12 years. Galatasaray have not beaten Fenerbahçe on an away pitch in 10 league games and three cup matches, since a 2-1 win on Dec 22, 1999.

Coming to the Şükrü Saracoğlu with a nine-point advantage and a remarkable form of six wins in a row, Galatasaray certainly feels: “If not now, when?”

However, Fenerbahçe fans will be comforted by the fact that they have been in worse positions and went on to beat Galatasaray before, the most memorable time being a valuable 1-0 win to drown their rivals, who would go on to win the UEFA Cup in a few weeks, on March 26, 2000.

Cutting the gap
On the other hand, Fenerbahçe takes this game seriously as a jumping point to kick start its turbulent season. The Yellow Canaries know a win would cut the gap to six points, which would be halved to just three in the playoffs, where they will get to play Galatasaray twice.

“We are away from the top but we have 10 games, three with Galatasaray, three with Trabzonspor and two with Beşiktaş,” Fenerbahçe midfielder Selçuk Şahin said last week. “We can win the title if we win all 10 games and we know we can – like we did last year.”

That brings us to the reason why this game is pivotal for Fenerbahçe. On July 3, still reveling in their 18th league title joy, Fenerbahçe learned that it has been in the center of a large match-fixing investigation. Five club officials, including chairman Aziz Yıldırım were detained on alleged ties to mafia and alleged attempts to manipulate matches. Fenerbahçe won 17 of its final 18 games last year and will aim to prove that its success was not the result of a rigging scheme, as the prosecutors claim, which an overwhelming majority of Fenerbahçe fans believe an unjust plot to rock the club.

It might not be as politically-filled as the Rangers-Celtic or Al Ahly-Zamalek rivalries, or not having a strong social significance like the River Plate vs. Boca Juniors derbies, but for its followers, Fenerbahçe vs. Galatasaray meetings are second to none when it comes to thrill, tension and pressure on and off the pitch. This time, with altered psychological situations, Saturday evening will be no exception.

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