Group B of the UEFA Champions League could hardly be more finely balanced as it reaches a thrilling climax on Tuesday, and although the imponderables are plentiful one thing seems certain - both Galatasaray SK and FC Barcelona have to look for a win in the Ali Sami Yen.
The facts are stark for Mircea Lucescu's team: victory will carry them through to the quarter-finals for the second successive season, a draw or defeat would see them eliminated. The scenario is almost the same for the visitors - with the exception that a sharing of the points could be enough for Barcelona, depending on the outcome of the other fixture in the section.
Were the match in Istanbul to finish level then Galatasaray, after six draws in a row, would go into the Champions League record books but out of the competition. Since the competition was revamped two seasons ago, no unbeaten team has ever been eliminated from either group stage.
Galatasaray are unbeaten in their last 20 matches at the Ali Sami Yen stadium, having won 14 and drawn six. Much of their solid form has been down to Colombian goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon. "This is the most important match for us," Mondragon said. "I was very stressed in the games against Liverpool [FC], tonight I will be even more stressed. But I have full confidence in the team. We are strong, we are quick and I am absolutely sure that we will win this game."
Lucescu backed by club
Galatasaray coach Mircea Lucescu has received a vote of confidence from his board, with the club extending his contract by another two years. "Although he [Lucescu] had received many offers from Europe, he said he was very pleased with Galatasaray and that he wanted to stay," Galatasaray board member Abdurrahim Albayrak said. "Lucescu belives in the club."
Albayarak added that later in the week the club would offer a two-year extension to Sergen Yalçin who is sidelined for two-and-a-half months after a severe leg injury. Lucescu is likely to play either Arif Erdem or Radu Niculescu up front to support Ümit Karan.
Most of the club's other injury worries have cleared up with Brazilian defender Capone recovering from a groin problem. However he may not play if Lucescu decides to go with the attacking play offered by Sébastien Pérez. "We will play offensively and we will win," Lucescu said.
Barcelona's two previous visits to the Ali Sami Yen have produced a goalless draw and a 2-1 defeat, but at least they can take some comfort from their 3-0 victory over Fenerbahçe SK in their opening fixture of the current campaign.
Whereas Galatasaray had the luxury of a weekend off after the Turkish Football Association allowed them to postpone their game with Trabzonspor, Barcelona were involved in a typically fierce clash with their great rivals Real Madrid CF. It ended 1-1 to further diminish the Catalan side's hopes of lifting the championship - they now lie six points behind Madrid with eight games remaining. Xavi, recalled to the starting lineup after a three-week absence, scored the second-half equaliser.
Coach Carles Rexach was a disappointed man afterwards. "We played pretty badly in the first half and they looked physically fresher than us," he said. "The result is bad and it leaves us six points behind with the head-to-head goal average favourable to Real Madrid. We must now give priority to getting the players physically recovered in time for the trip to Istanbul. The players are psychologically fatigued and you can see this at the start of each match. We have to try to make sure this isn't decisive in Istanbul."
To make matters worse Rexach cannot call on Rivaldo who damaged a knee in the Camp Nou game. Phillip Cocu also misses out through suspension and in another blow to the midfield department Gerard has been ruled out for the rest of the season after snapping a cartilage in his right knee during training last week. The absences have prompted Rexach to promote attacking midfield player Roberto Trashorras into the squad from the reserve team.
Defender Frank de Boer said: "The draw with Real Madrid was not very useful. [The League] is not yet lost for us, but obviously it has become much more complicated. Right now, we are absolutely concentrated on Tuesday's match, and I am confident the team will go to Turkey with a winning mentality in order to obtain the qualification. In our last matches we have produced great physical efforts, but football professionals must be prepared for that."
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