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Fenerbahçe SK stand on the brink of the UEFA Champions League knockout phase for the first time, knowing that victory at their Sükrü Saraçoglu Stadium against eliminated PFC CSKA Moskva would banish the memory of four previous group-stage failures and prompt a night of celebrations in Istanbul.
A big part of the Turkish champions' form in Europe this season has been goalkeeper Volkan Demirel. The 26-year-old has kept three clean sheets in the campaign so far, two of them in the eye-catching home defeats of FC Internazionale Milano and PSV Eindhoven. Now, after shaking off a cold to deliver a stellar performance in Saturday's 2-0 win against arch-rivals Galatasaray AS, he is ready for the challenge of CSKA. "There is nothing more to say," he declared. "We know what we have to do. If we can stick to our game plan, we will go through. Our supporters and the Turkish people deserve such a historic victory. I hope we will do it."
Just as Fenerbahçe have proved themselves in Group G after past disappointments, so Volkan Demirel has achieved a new-found status in 2007/08. Behind Rüştü Reçber in the pecking order last term, the understudy did not impress when first called into action, allowing Serdar Kulbilge to become first choice when the previous No1 departed in the summer. But Serdar suffered a knee injury early in the campaign and Volkan Demirel took his opportunity with aplomb, reproducing the sort of form he had shown when given a chance while Rüştü was at FC Barcelona in 2003/04.
The Turkish international now looks back on his spell in the wilderness as a useful learning experience. "Anybody can face such situations in their lives," Volkan Demirel said. "There were some setbacks and I made some mistakes last season but I learned lessons from that. That is important for a professional footballer."
Perhaps because of those low points, he has words of comfort for namesake Volkan Babacan, the teenage Fenerbahçe goalkeeper who helped Turkey to victory at the 2005 UEFA European Under-17 Championship but is still waiting for a senior breakthrough. "I don't think I am indispensable and he is a confident keeper who the club can definitely trust," he said. "I have no doubt about his ability and experience. All of us, Serdar and both Volkans, have the goalkeeping quality Fenerbahçe need."
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