Galatasaray has one eye on Braga as it entertains Antep
Galatasaray striker Johan Elmander is seen during one of their league matches against Antep last season. (PHOTO Today’s Zaman)
Defending champion and leader Galatasaray hosts Gaziantepspor in week 14 of the Spor Toto Super League at Türk Telekom Arena in İstanbul on Friday, with one eye on the crucial UEFA Champions League Group H match away against Braga next Wednesday.
The Braga encounter is of utmost importance for the Lions, as Galatasaray is popularly called, because victory would earn them a berth in the knockout stage of the Champions League and render the result of the other group match between Manchester United and CFR Cluj totally irrelevant.
To elucidate further, Galatasaray and Cluj have seven points apiece, but the Lions are second by virtue of a better head-to-head record. And leader Manchester United having already qualified means second place as well a spot in the sixteenth-finals will be at stake on Wednesday.
If both Galatasaray and Cluj draw or lose in their respective matches, the Lions will advance. But if Cluj can make the impossible possible by beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, then Galatasaray will have no other choice but to defeat Braga in Portugal.
The saddest thing, however, is that the Galatasaray players, more often than not, tend to lose their concentration before a European cup encounter.
The Lions were humiliated 3-1 at home by struggling Black Sea side Kardemir Karabükspor in week 12 of the Super League match on Friday, Nov. 16, ahead of the home date with Manchester United in the Champions League on Nov. 20. Galatasaray, however, rebounded from the league nightmare to beat United 1-0 and hand the Englishmen their first defeat in the group.
Galatasaray and everyone associated with the club fear the exact same thing could happen in the match against Antep on Friday. Coach Fatih Terim fielded a makeshift team consisting mostly of reserves against third division Balıkesirspor in round four of the Ziraat Turkish Cup on Tuesday -- and the Lions easily won 4-1.
There is a big gulf in quality between Gaziantepspor and Balıkesirspor and so if Terim fields a weakened side against Hikmet Karaman’s Antep on Friday, Galatasaray could pay dearly for it.
Galatasaray playmaker Selçuk İnan -- who missed last Saturday’s away match against bottom club Elazığ that the Lions won 1-0 -- is expected to return to his playmaking role.
Brazil defensive midfielder Felipe Melo is in the best of moods after his heroic acts in the Elazığ match and so is very likely to make Terim’s starting XI. To recap: Melo made headlines far beyond Turkey after that match, when he turned goalkeeper and saved a penalty in the 90th minute following the dismissal of Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera for bringing down a goal-bound Elazığ player.
Muslera was not fielded in Tuesday’s cup match against Balıkesir, which means he may have served out his suspension. But Terim is likely bench him and give his reserve keeper another try.
Upfront, Terim is very likely to start with goal-machines Burak Yılmaz and Umut Bulut and may bring in off-form Sweden striker Johan Elmander later in the game.
The fate of Gaziantepspor -- as things now stand -- which beat Bülent Kormaz’s visiting İstanbul Büyükşehirspor 2-1 last Sunday, does not lie in its hands, but in those of Terim. If the Galatasaray coach fields a strong team, then Antep will have virtually little or no chance. But if he tries to experiment with his reserves, then Karaman’s men could give them the blues.