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European reflex rescues Galatasaray

Published: Thursday 22 November 2012, 17.15CET
Burdened by great expectations, Galatasaray AŞ toiled to find their feet in Group H but, says Türker Tozar, their 'European reflex' kicked in to take them within sight of the last 16.
by Türker Tozar
from Istanbul
Published: Thursday 22 November 2012, 17.15CET

European reflex rescues Galatasaray

Burdened by great expectations, Galatasaray AŞ toiled to find their feet in Group H but, says Türker Tozar, their 'European reflex' kicked in to take them within sight of the last 16.

The club's founding father, Ali Sami Yen, said the main reason for Galatasaray AŞ's formation was "beating foreign teams" – and European success remains a guiding principle for the Istanbul side.

After a six-year absence from the UEFA Champions League group stage, the Turkish champions qualified directly for this season's tournament. But, in his sixth season in the competition, and his third spell as Galatasaray coach, Fatih Terim seemed destined not to make it through the group again following defeats by Manchester United FC and SC Braga in his team's opening Group H games.

However, a 3-1 win at CFR 1907 Cluj and Tuesday's 1-0 victory against United have restored Galatasaray's sense of continental purpose. They could yet reach the spring phase of the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 2001/02.

©AFP/Getty Images

Burak Yılmaz has scored all Galatasaray's goals

The way I see it, this is Galatasaray's 'European reflex' kicking in – they have reacted when they needed to most. These last two matches have shown the squad finally coming together and demonstrating the necessary style and passion to compete in Europe. Against CFR and United, Galatasaray looked quick and hungry; like a side that wanted to work for each other; like a side that knows that to flourish in Europe demands that little bit extra, even for the best teams.

Having lifted the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup in 2000, Galatasaray have been burdened by great expectations ever since. Investment in new talent this summer meant Cimbom were once more touted as a 'dream team', but whatever Galatasaray fans and the national media thought, this was an outfit that had substantial issues to deal with.

Half of the squad had no previous group stage experience, and that initially proved a challenge for central defenders Semih Kaya and Dany Nounkeu – especially given that experienced Czech defender Tomáš Ujfaluši is sidelined with a long-term injury.

Terim switched between Albert Riera and Hakan Balta, and further uncertainty was caused by defensive midfielder Felipe Melo. The Brazilian's aggressive playing style was a key factor in Galatasaray's title triumph last season, yet he has only now started to find his form after missing pre-season training due to negotiations over the extension of his loan from Juventus.

With clubs in the UEFA Champions League not as easily dominated as some of Galatasaray's opponents in Turkey, Terim's men also displayed a lack of thrust going forward in those first European outings. Despite some decent performances – notably at Old Trafford – one point from the first three matchdays told its own story.

However, when they might have given in to despair, that European reflex kicked in on matchday four. New forward Burak Yılmaz – ably assisted by Selçuk İnan, Hamit Altıntop and Nordin Amrabat – scored a hat-trick at CFR, and he registered his fifth of the campaign against United on Tuesday. He has struck all five of his side's Group H goals.

©Getty Images

Fatih Terim has played a central role

Those successes bear the hallmark of Terim's management style. Famous for his even-handed dealings with players and perceptive squad rotations, his charges appeared fresh and determined, and willing to play for each other. I think getting through the group stage is a personal target for Terim, and his players certainly seemed more driven than earlier in the campaign, when the demands of Super League and European football looked to be draining their focus.

On matchday six, Galatasaray head to Braga, needing to equal or better CFR's result at United to claim second place in the section. Lessons will have been learned from their first meeting in Istanbul. Galatasaray have to be patient and must not panic, even if the goals don't come easily. If they get to the knockout rounds, it will be a major achievement, with no Turkish team having made it that far since Fenerbahçe SK played in the 2007/08 quarter-finals.

The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.

Last updated: 22/11/12 19.34CET

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