Galatasaray bow out with 'pride'

Posted by Cetin Cem Yilmaz

Rarely has the phrase 'never-say-die' rung so true in football. At half time, and four goals down, there are not many teams that you simply cannot write off. But a team that is coached by Fatih Terim, you can guarantee will fight until the final whistle.

Terim was at the helm when Turkey claimed a 3-2 win over Czech Republic after falling two goals down in the 2008 European Championship. In his usual, confident manner, Terim owned the post-game press conference, kidding the journalists and apologizing to them "for forcing them to erase and rewrite their match reports in the last 20 minutes".

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The second half of the Galatasaray versus Real Madrid certainly produced another raft deleted articles, as the home side claimed a 3-2 win.

Real seemingly took the tie for granted after heading into the interval 1-0 ahead, but they should have taken a hint that Galatasaray would not go out without a fight.

Terim started with Nordin Amrabat, who does not always make the best decisions but is pretty good at keeping the ball in attack and within 15 minutes, a well-worked play was finished clinically by Emmanuel Eboue. Wesley Sneijder agonizingly missed a sitter moments later.

The plan looked like working as Galatasaray delivered another punch and replaced second forward Umut Bulut with Sabri Sarioglu. With a more crowded midfield supplying Didier Drogba and Sneijder having his best day in a Galatasaray shirt, despite his horror miss, the Lions piled on the pressure.

Then came the magical three minutes: First Sneijder, thanks to a skilful Sabri pass gave the hosts the lead. Then Drogba found the net with a brilliant back-heel. The Ivory Coast star then did it again, but this time from an offside position and that was basically the end of what could have been a legendary comeback for Galatasaray.

The remaining minutes did not bring Galatasaray the two more goals they needed, but did "scare" Real Madrid, as admitted by coach Jose Mourinho. Gala also made their followers "proud," as Terim said. That, of course, could look nothing more than a mere consolation to the cynics. But it was crucial to show how far Galatasaray have come.

Only in the summer of 2011, Galatasaray fans showed what they were capable of during a pre-season game against Liverpool. It was a full house in August and the fans chanted like it was a Champions League match, not an exhibition game - so much so that it prompted the Reds' official website to question why the atmosphere was so high. The answer was that Galatasaray missed European football, which they briefly made an impact on during late 90s and early 2000s. That season, the Lions did not play in European cups, so that was the only chance to see a continental team in Istanbul.

Now, so much has changed in so little time. One and a half years on, Galatasaray fans were able to see a Champions League quarter-final game at Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi, or Arena, as fans like to call it much more aptly. The tie was virtually lost in Madrid but the coach, the team and the fans felt obliged to show that anything was possible.

It was an electric atmosphere at the Arena, probably the most ambitious fan support this season and was an apt send off to a successful campaign. Yes, Galatasaray lost, but they were "beautiful losers" to paraphrase Leonard Cohen. And when the fourth official signalled just three minutes of stoppage time at the end of 90 minutes, the fans complained as even Alvaro Arbeloa's sending off deserved a longer addition. Five minutes, instead of three, would be better: the fans believing Galatasaray could score two more goals in two more minutes against Real Madrid - it looked possible to them.

Galatasaray should not get carried away by the dizzying second half, though. There are some questions to be answered as to why the team had trouble grasping the game early in both occasions, or what more could have been done to try and limit Real Madrid's seemingly infinite scoring threats. It could be asked if a more defensive minded approach in the first tie, or using the sole-striker formation could also be considered. But as a whole, Galatasaray, despite some blatant defensive errors, did a very good job over two games.

This was a team that returned to elite European club competition after six years, and returned to the last eight after 12. Galatasaray made enough of a statement to suggest it should not take that long again. And they also issued a warning to Europe that there is no easy trip to Arena.

Galatasaray lost the tie, but did not end up empty-handed. This season brought the team A New Hope, and next season they will be hoping the Empire Strikes Back.

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