Galatasaray AŞ took one point from their first three games but three straight wins, including one against Manchester United FC, had their fans dreaming of a return to the glory days.
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Galatasaray AŞ recovered from losing their first two matches to reach the last 16 for the first time since 2001/02, winning their last three fixtures in claiming second place in UEFA Champions League Group H. For their supporters, the team's exploits were a reminder of Gala's glory days between the mid-1990s and early 2000s, a glittering period culminating in victory in the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup in 2000. Judging by the banners in the Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi, Galatasaray are out to conquer Europe once more.
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After three matchdays, Fatih Terim's side were staring disaster in the face. A brave performance in a 1-0 loss at Manchester United FC on matchday one seemed to augur well, but when Galatasaray – usually so strong in Istanbul – picked up just one point in their subsequent home games against SC Braga and CFR 1907 Cluj, Terim knew their only way out was to win all three remaining matches. Remarkably they did precisely that: striker Burak Yılmaz scoring a hat-trick to beat CFR in Romania on matchday four and then heading the only goal at home to section winners United, before a hard-fought 2-1 victory at Braga enabled them to edge out CFR for second place.
According to Burak, the turning point came in the press conference at the Ali Sami Yen following the 1-1 draw with CFR in their third fixture. "That was when I said we would not drop a single point in the remaining games," he explained. "And that's what happened."
Burak and Real Madrid CF's Cristiano Ronaldo are the competition's joint-top scorers having managed six goals apiece in the group stage – a source of enormous pride to the 27-year-old Turkey forward and his club, and all the more impressive since Burak was unable to make much impact on his group stage debut with Trabzonspor AŞ last term. Goalkeeper Fernando Muslera may not have made as many headlines, but he has quietly won the hearts of the Galatasaray fans with his steady performances. The Uruguayan may find he takes a more prominent role in the knockout rounds.
Without attack-minded midfielder Nordin Amrabat's relentless efforts – both in defence and further upfield – Galatasaray would have fallen well short of a round of 16 place. His graft has given Selçuk İnan and Burak the opportunity to impress, something that was emphasised when the 25-year-old Moroccan international's perfect cross set up Burak to equalise at Braga on matchday six.
Burak's six goals represented Galatasaray's entire group stage haul with time running out at Braga, only for Aydin Yılmaz to swoop for the late winner that clinched a round of 16 place.
"I'm very pleased we completed the job on our own instead of waiting for help elsewhere. Galatasaray still have plenty to say in Europe. Some games make a team a real team. Some matches unite communities, even whole countries."
Fatih Terim celebrates victory in Braga and a place in the knockout stage