Are the Turks the Champions League ‘Dark Horses’ this year?
Tuesday the 12th of March, in a packed Veltins-Arena, just over 54,000 people witnessed a stunning 30-yard strike from Turkish veteran Hamit Altintop, and saw Galatasary make the last eight of the Champions League for the first time in 12 years.
In a tightly contested match, with the scores already tied at 1-1 from the first leg, the game swung in the favour of both teams throughout the night as Galatasary ran out victorious. An early goal from Neustädter gave Shalke the lead, but a former Shalke man, Hamit Altintop, came back to haunt his former club, with a stunning shot from all but 30 yards out. That was quickly followed by a goal from Burak Yilmaz on the counter attack. With the Galatasaray faithful going ballistic, the two quick fire goals saw the Turks go into half time with their Champions League aspirations still intact.
The next 45 minutes would be the most nerve-racking and anxious minutes for Galatasaray and their supporters. Each minute seemed to slowly tick by, and the Germans onslaught saw the Galatasaray defence slowly succumb to constant Shalke pressure. The Germans finally pulled one back just after the hour mark through Michel Bastos, but Shalke still needed another goal to go through and the ambush continued from there on out. Galatasaray looked happy to sit on their slender lead; they knew the away goals were vital, as Shalke continued to bombard the Aslanlar defence. Galatasaray fought on full of courage and bravery, withstanding the Germans offensive tactics. Shalke were pushing on, hitting the crossbar and making Fernando Muslera produce numerous saves. The game slowly but surely was slipping away from Shalke, who were desperate to grab a goal and send the home fans into elation. It eventually reached stoppage time, and with Shalke throwing everything forward, Galatasaray picked the ball up on the counter-attack and the substitute, Umut Bulut settled it as he placed the ball passed the Shalke keeper.
Galatasaray were back. Once masters of the European stage, they have recently found themselves in and out of both European competitions. This win meant a lot to the Turkish supporters, as they had relished the opportunity to reach the quarter finals of the Champions League for over a decade. The loud and proud Galatasaray fans basked in the glory of finally achieving a long awaited goal. The fans gave credit to every player on the park and of course the manager. However, the summer additions of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder have been key to Gala’s recent success. Their form in the group stages of the Champions League was balanced. A poor first two games saw defeat at the hands of Manchester United and SC Braga. However, they did quickly turn things around and won 3 of their next 4 Champions League games, finishing 2nd in the group. The January additions of Drogba and Sneijder brought elation and excitement to the Türk Telekom Arena. Galatasaray were lacking that European experience, and brought in two of Europeans most renowned footballers. If experience was what they required, they certainly found it as Drogba and Sneijder quickly established themselves in the first team. Helping the team not only reach the quarter finals of the Champions league, but also taking top spot in the Turkish Super League, overtaking rivals Fenerbache and opening up a 5 point gap. The two signings have played a big part in their recent success, so is it possible for Galatasaray to go all the way?
The quarter final draw last Friday saw Galatasaray paired with Real Madrid, which will be a tough game for both teams. Real Madrid are obviously a talented team and the European giants are in good form in Europe this season, with Jose Mourinho at the helm. The Spanish side will play against Galatasaray at the Bernabeu in the first leg, which could be a huge advantage for Galatasaray. If they get their tactics right and can keep the score low, possibly sneak an away goal, it would be in the return leg in front of the Galatasaray faithful that could prove a tricky game for Madrid. The tables will be turned, and Galatasaray have an impressive home record in front of their noisy fans. It will be a tricky tie for the Turkish outfit, but if they play to their strengths at the Bernabeu, they could set themselves up for a remarkable Champions League quarter final win against Real Madrid.
Could they go all the way to Wembley? It will certainly be tough and with the odds stacked against Gala they are undoubtedly underdogs. A win against Real Madrid however, should ignite the team to push on to the final. Players like Drogba, Sneijder and Hamit Altintop, all experienced personnel, are capable of leading their team to a quarter final upset. There is no such a thing as a kind semi-final draw in the Champions League, and if they were to beat Madrid, they will face an unquestionably even tougher task in the next round. With the odds at 100/1 for Galatasaray to win the Champions League, they are not favourites to go all the way. That is not to say they can’t. Stranger things have happened in football, and with good players and strong vocal support from their fans, it can happen. I believe Galatasaray have a good chance of getting to the final, and winning it. It will be tough, but it is certainly possible. Drogba and Sneijder have won the Champions League before with Inter Milan and Chelsea retrospectively. Who is to say they can’t do it again with Galatasaray?