Galatasaray left trailing as Fenerbahce shoot for the stars

Posted by Eliot Rothwell

Fenerbahce celebrate their 2-0 victory over Galatasaray.GettyImagesFenerbahce celebrate their 2-0 victory over Galatasaray.

ISTANBUL -- It was the year Manchester United's 'Class of 92' had their crowning achievement, the year Tony Soprano debuted on our screens and the year the euro was introduced as a currency. Of greater concern to Galatasaray, 1999 was also the year in which they last triumphed away to Fenerbahce.

Here, once again, the reigning champions failed to break the curse of Kadikoy. A penalty from former Galatasaray player Emre Belozoglu, a far-post prod from Cristian Baroni and a missed penalty from Felipe Melo consigned Galatasaray to another year of misery on Istanbul's Asian shore, with Fenerbahce comfortably winning 2-0.

"This year again, every year the same" was the chant that rang out from the mass of yellow-and-blue behind both goals. As is now the case for games like this in Turkey, Galatasaray had no supporters to rally around. They were verbally barraged from all angles and lacked the verve of Fenerbahce's forward pressing. Their play was tentative and laboured, while their hosts looked to have confidence and the weight of historical inevitability behind them.

This Intercontinental Derby was played on the 75th anniversary of the death of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic whose image adorns buildings throughout Turkey. While reverence for Ataturk is common, Fenerbahce are a club more aligned with a Kemalist attitude, founded in secrecy in 1907 when Ottoman officials forbade Turks from forming football teams, and offering backing in the War of Independence. Just before kick-off this weekend, a giant Turkish flag covered the whole of the top tier, while throughout the match sporadic chants announced: "We are the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal."

Galatasaray, in contrast, trace their history to the Lycee Galatasaray, a Francophone educational establishment at the heart of European Istanbul. Many of the club's board members, including president Unal Aysal, have links with the school, and this perceived European sophistication was at the heart of the decision to sack manager Fatih Terim -- whom the Fenerbahce fans saluted during the match -- and replace him with former Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini.

The only impact the Italian has made so far, however, is replacing his blue-and-white scarf with a red-and-yellow one. The issues he faced when arriving in Istanbul are yet to be resolved.

The attacking movement lacks synchronicity, with the signing of Didier Drogba forcing Burak Yilmaz into an uncomfortable wide position. The defence looks consistently uncomfortable with the simplest of tasks and organisation, illustrated by the mindless handball from Aurelien Chedjou that gifted Fenerbahce a penalty and goal early on. And the build-up in the midfield is forced and painfully slow, personified by the tepidity of Selcuk Inan, always calling for the ball from midfield partners just two yards away, yet with no clear picture of where to move it next.

Fenerbahce displayed the solidity Galatasaray want, with defensive midfield shield Mehmet Topal giving an impeccable performance and Emre moving the ball more thoughtfully than his opponents. The home side also lacked fluidity in attacking areas yet, with the combined talents of Dirk Kuyt, Moussa Sow, Pierre Webo and Emmanuel Emenike, are capable of bludgeoning through any defence.

Cristian Baroni celebrates after netting Fenebahce's second.
GettyImagesCristian Baroni celebrates after netting Fenebahce's second.

As the raucous post-match celebrations brought Kadikoy to a standstill, Cristian Baroni and Bruno Alves smiled their way through the news conference, Baroni's children perched on his knee. Fenerbahce boss Ersun Ayal, who has recovered from recent heart trouble, also seemed rather pleased.

Mancini, though, looked tired, perhaps now acutely aware of the task that confronts him. "There is not one player who played a good game," the Italian groaned. His side are now nine points behind leaders Fenerbahce, facing an almost insurmountable challenge if they are to claim a third successive title.

Much like the pride instilled in Manchester United fans when they, in Sir Alex Ferguson's words, knocked Liverpool off their perch, Istanbul's leading clubs have an acute awareness of who leads the overall standings. Galatasaray, thanks to the recent work of Terim, have overtaken Fenerbahce with 19 league titles, whilst the Kadikoy club have 18.

The sub-plot of this is the race for the prestigious fourth star on the shirt, with each awarded for every five titles. Both clubs now have three stars and Mancini, perhaps bravely, has suggested he doesn't think Galatasaray's fourth star needs to be put on hold just yet. "Nine points isn't too much from now until the end. I'm confident we can recover these points," he said.

For such a deficit to be overcome, however, Galatasaray are going to have to be impeccable for the majority of their remaining games. Their form will determine whether the next Intercontinental Derby, taking place in April, is a genuine title decider or a Fenerbahce title parade.

Galatasaray are now in sixth place, with the financial catastrophe of potentially missing out on the Champions League looming ever larger. Fenerbahce, meanwhile, will miss out on Champions League football wherever they finish, with the unnatural and melancholy scenario of the league champions barred from representing the league in Europe.

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