The Lions, as Galatasaray is popularly called, led Fenerbahçe by five points when the inaugural four-team Super Final playoffs kicked off nearly a month ago. But the Lions go into Saturday’s final with only a one-point lead over the Yellow Canaries, Fenerbahçe’s nickname.
Galatasaray, which dominated the Spor Toto Super League season, has been unrecognizable during the Super Final -- winning two, drawing two and losing one. The Lions beat Trabzonspor and Beşiktaş away and did not win a single match at home -- losing to Fenerbahçe and drawing with Trabzonspor and Beşiktaş. Fenerbahçe, on the other hand, has been the most successful in the Super Final with four wins and one loss in five outings. The Canaries defeated the Lions away, beat Beşiktaş at home but lost away and subdued Trabzonspor both at home and on the road.
Much has been said and written about the Super Final and a chaotic 2011-12 season characterized by an unprecedented match-fixing scandal that has dragged Turkish football through the mud. Saturday is therefore a day of reckoning because a champion will emerge at Şükrü Saracoğlu, come what may, even though the rigging saga will continue to drag on.
‘Mother of all derbies’
Any Fenerbahçe-Galatasaray encounter, dubbed the “mother of all derbies” by the local media, is not for the fainthearted. And being an end-of-season clash that will determine the league champion increases the importance of Saturday’s game.
The odds seem to favor Fenerbahçe because the action will take place at FB Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium -- a venue at which the Yellow Canaries have not been beaten in 42 matches.
Fenerbahçe was last beaten at Şükrü Saracoğlu in week 22 of the 2009-10 season by eventual champion Bursaspor on Feb. 22, 2010, and has not tasted defeat since. Moreover, the Lions have not won at Şükrü Saracoğlu in 13 years, and the last time they tasted victory at this venue was on Dec. 22, 1999, when they won 2-1. All indicators show the Yellow Canaries will not lose at Şükrü Saracoğlu on Saturday, but whether they will win remains anyone’s guess.
Fenerbahçe coach Aykut Kocaman has several walking wounded to attend to as captain-playmaker Alex de Souza and defenders Gökhan Gönül and Sezer Öztürk have missed some practice sessions this week. And whether these players will be fit to play on Saturday remains unclear. The good news, though, is that Senegal striker Moussa Sow has recovered faster than expected and trained separately from the team this week.
Alex is particularly important for the Canaries in any match against the Lions. The simple reason is that Alex likes to score against Galatasaray and has found the back of the net eight times in 18 outings against the Lions. If Alex scores one more goal, he will equal the number of goals current coach Kocaman scored against the Lions during his playing days.
Another Fener player in top form is Cristian Baroni, and he could also be a menace to the Galatasaray defense if given too much space.
After Saturday’s match, the Yellow Canaries will return to action on May 16, this time against Bursaspor in the final of the Ziraat Turkish Cup, a trophy they have not won since 1983.
Lions loathe Şükrü Saracoğlu
Fenerbahçe loves Şükrü Saracoğlu, where it is indomitable, but Galatasaray hates this venue, where it has not won in 13 years -- and the last time it tasted victory there was on Dec. 22, 1999, when it won 2-1.
But everything that has a beginning has an end, and the Lions are hoping -- maybe against hope -- that the Şükrü Saracoğlu jinx will come to an end on Saturday.
Coach Fatih Terim will be on the bench after his suspension was deferred until next season by the Professional Football Disciplinary Committee (PFDK) on Thursday. Without Terim on the bench, the Lions squandered a 2-0 Super Final lead in the first half last Sunday to eventually draw 2-2 with Beşiktaş.
Terim, without the slightest doubt, will be a source of inspiration to the Lions. But whether that alone will be enough for Terim’s men to break the Şükrü Saracoğlu spell poses more questions than answers. After all, Terim was at the Galatasaray helm when Fenerbahçe crushed Galatasaray 6-0 at Şükrü Saracoğlu on Nov. 6, 2002.
Terim has a very fit team and apart from injured mediocre striker Mehmet Batdal, the Lions have no other injured or suspended player. But the fact of the matter is that Sweden forward Johan Elmander is suffering from a mysterious slump, while 30-something Necati Ateş and Milan Baros are not world-class goal scorers. And the result is that the Lions lose or draw matches they could have won easily because they just cannot outscore their opponents.
Brazil midfielder Felipe Melo is not doing badly at all, and the Lions will be banking on him on Friday.
“As long as there is life, there is hope,” they say, and Galatasaray’s Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera has refused to give up hope.
“One match, one chance,” Muslera said this week. “And if we exert the same effort as we did in previous [Super Final] matches, we can overcome. We dropped points in some matches, not because we did not play well, but because luck was against us [and you cannot be unlucky all of the time],” he noted.
The Lions go into Saturday’s match with a one-point lead over the Canaries, and that could prove an advantage because they do not need to win since a draw will be enough for them to lift the league trophy.
However, Terim and his Lions should be well prepared mentally and physically for Saturday’s game because it is one of the most dangerous derbies on the planet. They should not expect a red-carpet welcome from the Fenerbahçe fans, but rather should be ready for all kinds of curses and projectiles that will be hurled at them from the stands.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. and the referee will be Cüneyt Çakır. His assistants will be Bahattin Duran and Tarık Ongun, while the fourth official will be Yunus Yıldırım.