Galatasaray to take on Schalke for spot in last 8

Galatasaray to take on Schalke for spot in last 8

Galatasaray to take on Schalke for spot in last 8

Galatasaray striker Didier Drogba (R) vies for the ball in the Champions League round of 16 first leg game against Schalke three weeks ago. Schalke has won all three games since it held the Istanbul club to a 1-1 draw in Istanbul. DAILY NEWS photo / Emrah GÜREL

Galatasaray visits Schalke 04 in Germany in the return leg of a 1-1 draw tonight, hoping to reach the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time since 2001.

Galatasaray remains atop the Spor Toto Super League despite coach Fatih Terim’s team struggling against mid-table teams in March 8’s 1-0 defeat at home to Gençlerbirliği, which followed last week’s goalless draw at Eskişehirspor that prompted a warning from Terim that a similar performance would be punished more harshly by Schalke.

“Pull yourselves together,” the coach was quoted by the media as telling his players after the Gençlerbirlği defeat. “I do not want to see such a performance against Schalke.”

Galatasaray will put its faith in the newly formed attacking trio of Wesley Sneijder, Didier Drogba and the Champions League’s second-highest goal scorer, Burak Yılmaz, to help it advance past Schalke. Drogba and Sneijder, who joined the club in January, were both quiet in the first leg as Yılmaz’s early goal was ruled out by Schalke’s Jermaine Jones equalizer.

Unbeaten at home

Both sides have reasons for confidence in the second leg. Schalke is unbeaten at home in this season’s Champions League and Galatasaray is looking to complete a hat-trick of away victories in the competition.

The Royal Blues have lost just twice in 16 home games in the European competition since the start of the 2010-2011 season, when the club reached the Champions League semifinals.

 Schalke has won all three games since the Galatasaray game three weeks ago, including March 9’s 2-1 Bundesliga win over Ruhr Valley rival Borussia Dortmund.

 The victory came at a cost with Holland striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar tearing knee ligaments and out for the next few weeks after scoring the winner against Dortmund.

 Despite the loss of last season’s top scorer in Germany, the derby win has boosted confidence and Schalke is bidding for another win at Gelsenkirchen’s Veltins Arena.

“That is balm for our soul,” Schalke sports director Horst Heldt said after the victory that enabled the club to climb back into the Bundesliga top four.

“To deservedly beat the champions does not happen every day and it gives us courage for the tasks ahead,” Heldt told reporters.

“Galatasaray will be a different game but those at Galatasaray will also have seen our game against Dortmund. I am convinced we will take that next big step,” Heldt added.

Coach Jens Keller is hoping the home supporters will play their part, even if there are sure to be several thousand Galatasaray fans in the crowd, given the Ruhr’s large Turkish community.

“It is impressive to hear how much the atmosphere has improved in the stadium – these are happy days for us.”

Keep the good run

Captain Benedikt Hoewedes has said that having turned their fortunes around with wins over Wolfsburg, Fortuna Dusseldorf and now Dortmund, Schalke must keep the run going.

“We mustn’t ease up, everyone needs to keep working hard on the pitch and keep playing at the same level, otherwise it can all go wrong again just as quickly,” said the Germany defender, who has extended his contract until 2017.

The game will also mark the return to Gelsenkirchen of midfielder Hamit Altıntop, who spent four seasons with Schalke from 2003. Media reports say Galatasaray will wear shirts with “Istanbul 2020” logos to support the city’s bid to host the Olympics, competing with Tokyo and Madrid.