It’s been five years since the Turkish league saw one of its teams make it this far in UEFA Champions League, only back then, when a Chelsea team six months removed from the departure of José Mourinho faced Fenerbahçe, the tie started in Istanbul. An imposing atmosphere at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium combined with the general uncertainties surrounding Chelsea to create a feeling Fener may actually have a chance, a sense that was vindicated when the Canaries won the first leg, 2-1. Although it was predictable and, for the upset-minded, a bit melancholy when the eventual finalists moved back in front four minutes into the return leg, Turkey’s champions showed the league wasn’t out of its depth in the competition’s quarterfinals.
The same thing happened seven years earlier when Galatasaray became the first Turkish side to make the competition’s quarterfinals. Then, like today, Gala’s opponent was Real Madrid, only whereas this year’s matchup starts at the Santiago Bernabeu, 2001’s quarterfinal began at the old Ali Sami Yen. And just like Fener did against Chelsea, Galatasaray got a first leg win, with three-second half goals giving Mircea Lucescu’s team the 3-2 upset. Gala would go on to lose the return leg, 3-0.
Both teams represented the Super Lïg well in the final eight, but the fact that no other Turkish sides have made it this far hints Champions League’s quarterfinals may be one step too far. The results of the two road legs support that hypothesis, with Chelsea and Real Madrid easily overturning first leg deficits. Had those ties not began in Turkey, the drama may have been extinguished before the sides arrived in Istanbul.
That’s the danger of today’s match in Madrid. Mourinho’s Real have recovered from their winter swoon to regain their status as one of the competition’s favorites, a stature affirmed with their Round of 16 ousting of Manchester United. Given the general feeling that this is Mourinho’s last year with the Merengues, there’s more urgency than ever to capture the club’s precious 10th European Cup – la decima. The vindication Mourinho could feel delivering that title after three challenging years in the capital would rival any accomplishment of his professional career.
Galatasaray’s trip to the quarterfinals is less a reflection on contention and more a product of good draws. They were drawn into the weakest group in the competition and needed only to best CFR Cluj and Braga to make the knockout round. There they drew the mercurial Schalke – the weakest of the group winners. When the Miners faltered at home in the teams’ Round of 16 match, Galatasaray had their quarterfinal return.
Head coach Fatih Terim knows his team’s the underdog, yet he insists his team plans to go at the powerful Merengues. One goal will not be enough, he says. Though he could play conservatively and try to keep the tie within reach ahead of the return leg in Istanbul, Terim seems set to put his faith in his own attackers. He has the competition’s joint-lead scorer in Burak Yilmaz (eight goals). And he has former Mourinho stars Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder.
What remains to be seen is whether he’ll have better luck than his predecessors taking a Turkish team on the road in the Champions League quarterfinals. Even a goal would be history, let alone a win.
- Gala is one of the few teams alive in this competition that have domestic concerns. They’re four up on Fener at the top of the Super Lïg, though the schedule does them a favor this weekend. Terim’s men host last place Mersin İdmanyurdu on Saturday.
- Remarkably, Real Madrid have a player on their roster who played against Gala 12 years ago, though Iker Casillas is unlikely to see time in this tie. The Real captain has been medically cleared to return from his broken thumb, yet he looks unlikely to reclaim his job from Diego Lopez.
- Real’s team that lost in Istanbul 12 years ago: Casillas, Salgado, Carlos, Hierro, Karanka, Helguera, Makelele, McManaman, Morientes, Figo, Raul.
- With two goals this weekend in Gala’s derby with Istanbul BB, Yilmaz is up to 13 in his last 11 games for club and country. This is after the 27-year-old led last year’s Lïg with 33 goals in 34 appearances for Trabzonspor.
- Real Madrid have not lost at the Santiago Bernabeu in over a year, last falling to Barcelona in January 2012 in Copa del Rey competition. Their unbeaten streak sits at 37.
- Galatasaray have won three straight Champions League matches on the road: at Schalke last round (3-2) and group stage matches at Braga (2-1) and CFR Cluj (3-1).
- While Real’s 18 goals in this year’s competition tie them for the lead among quarterfinalists, Gala’s 11 goals are the lowest among the tournament’s survivors.
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Diego Lopez; Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Alvaro Arbeloa; Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira; Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Özil, Ángil Di Maria; Karim Benzema.
Galatasaray (4-3-1-2): Fernando Muslera; Albert Riera, Dany Nounkeu, Semih Kaya, Emmanuel Eboué; Selcuk Inan, Felipe Melo, Hamit Altintop; Wesley Sneijder; Burak Yilmaz, Didier Drogba.