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Spain may have been the dominant force over recent seasons in the UEFA Champions League, but in terms of experience it will be Galatasaray SK who hold the edge over Primera División contenders Real Sociedad de Fútbol when the two meet in Istanbul's Atatürk Olympic stadium on Tuesday.
Galatasaray's ninth Champions League campaign began with a narrow 2-1 defeat by Group D rivals Juventus FC, while Real's competition debut was a 1-0 home victory against Greek champions and tournament regulars Olympiacos CFP.
While Real may not be regulars on the continental stage, Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim said the individual ability possessed by last season's Spanish league runners-up more than makes up for that - not least in the person of Nihat Kahveci. The ex-Besiktas JK striker is playing his first club match in his native land since moving west.
'Very proud of him'
"In my opinion
Nihat Kahveci is the most important player in the Spanish team," Terim said. "We are very proud of him in Turkey, but we have to be very careful with him during the match. As a team Real do not have much experience in the Champions League, but individually most of the players have gained experience in the tournament and also internationally."
Hoping for better
Galatasaray saw their 2002/03 campaign end in the first group stage, not helped by two defeats by a Spanish side, FC Barcelona. Terim admits that no such result can be afforded against Real if Galatasaray are to stay on course for the knockout phase.
'We finished badly'
"Last season we started our Champions League campaign very well, but we finished badly and did not qualify for the second group stage," he said. "This season we started badly, so obviously I hope we will improve and qualify for the next stage."
Terim has two of Nihat's Turkish international team-mates, pivotal forward Hakan Sükür and midfield player Ergün Penbe, doubtful through injury. However, one thing the coach can be sure of is fervent support in their temporary stadium which stages its first Champions League game with Galatasaray's regular Ali Sami Yen stadium under redevelopment until 2005.
More than 60,000 fans are expected on Tuesday night - only around 900 supporting Real - while Galatasaray's 70,125 crowd for the derby against Fenerbahçe SK earlier this month was a Turkish league record. "
We are proud of our fans. I am sure they will support us very well," Terim said.
Real coach Raynald Denoueix is able to call on a strong squad as they aim to continue their winning start to Champions League football, with Nihat and Darko Kovacevic leading the line. Denoueix knows that his side's first trip in the competition will be as tough a test as they could face.
'Among the favourites'
"Galatasaray are among the favourites for the group," he said. "They played very well but they lost against Juventus. But to be honest it is very difficult to get points over there. We must be very careful with Hakan Sükür, Hasan Sas and Frank de Boer."
Meanwhile, Nihat admits the match has extra personal meaning. "I will be playing against a Turkish team for the first time.
It is very special for me. But I am a professional and will do my best for my team to be successful. Galatasaray have always been a tough team. It will be a hard game. But we are not stressed. Because we have three points we have the advantage."
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