Galatasaray returns to European football elite

Galatasaray returns to European football elite

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Galatasaray returns to European football elite

Galatasaray's Didier Drogba, Wesley Sneijder, Umut Bulut and Selçuk İnan (from left) celebrate their team's 3-2 victory in a Champions League Round of 16 second-leg tie against Schalke in Gelsenkirchen on March 12. AP photo

Galatasaray advanced to the top eight of European football after beating Schalke for a ticket to the Champions League quarterfinals on March 12.

A dramatic 3-2 away win sealed the tie for Galatasaray, who advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2001.

Galatasaray will soon discover its quarterfinal rival as the draw is set to be made tomorrow. The Turkish champion could find itself pitted against the greatest teams in the continent including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

For now, coach Fatih Terim believes it is time to relish the success. “We are among the biggest eight teams in Europe,” he said after the game. “All Turkey and Galatasaray fans should enjoy this success.”

Schalke’s 1-1 draw in the first leg in Istanbul meant that the Bundesliga side held a slight advantage going into the return in Germany, and the Royal Blues took the lead on the night 17 minutes in when Roman Neustaedter netted from close range.

But the Turks turned the tie on its head before the interval, with Hamit Altıntop striking from long range against his former club before Burak Yılmaz pounced on poor defending to net another five minutes later.

Remarkably, Yılmaz has now scored eight goals in eight Champions League games this season, making him the competition’s leading scorer alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.

Chaotic defense

Yılmaz’s strike meant that Schalke then needed to score two without reply to go through. It got one just after the hour when Michel Bastos netted after a Marco Höger shot had hit the bar, causing chaos in the visitors’ defense.

But the Galatasaray defense held firm, before substitute Umut Bulut made sure of the Lions’ progress at the death, sparking wild celebrations among the huge visiting support.

“We played very well in the first half this evening,” said Altıntop. “In the second half Schalke tried to put pressure on us and created a few important chances to score, but that is normal. Eventually, we got what we needed. I hope we get a good draw on Friday.”

The victory meant Galatasaray’s heavy recent spending on two marquee signings, Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba, was justified.

The two superstars cost around 20 million euros in January. The Turkish champion saw that Sneijder and Drogba were unhappy at their respective clubs, Inter Milan and Shanghai Shenhua, and could use the duo in a salvo on the latter stages of the Champions League.

Two superstars

Despite not scoring, Drogba, with his unmistakable physical presence, was inspirational and Sneijder is showing signs of returning to his best form.

Drogba’s deal included transfer fees totaling 6 million euros ($8 million) and payments of 15,000 euros per match, plus signing fees of 4 million euros.

Drogba, who scored the equalizer for Chelsea in their 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich in last year’s final before netting the decisive penalty in the shootout, moved to Shanghai Shenhua but cut his stay in China short amid reports of unpaid wages.

Sneijder signed a three-and-a-half year contract with Galatasaray and will cost the club around 4 million euros a year.

However, Galatasaray’s squad is not limited to the two, with former Juventus player Felipe Melo, star goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, former Arsenal player Emmanuel Eboue, and Turkish internationals Hamit Altıntop, Selçuk İnan and Burak Yılmaz all being key assets for the team.