The 2011-12 Spor Toto Super League season is over for good after Galatasaray was crowned champion at Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium in Kadıköy, home of eternal rival Fenerbahçe, on Saturday following a 0-0 draw by both teams in the week-six finale of the inaugural Super Final.
Fenerbahçe, or the Yellow Canaries, nonetheless extended their unbeaten run at Saracoğlu Stadium to 42 games, and Galatasaray remains winless at this venue after 13 long years.
The saddest thing for the Canaries is that they were hit where it hurts most on Saturday, since they surrendered the Super League trophy they won last season to avowed adversary Galatasaray at Şükrü Saracoğlu. This is a first in Turkish football history.
This was the fifth title for coach Fatih “the Emperor” Terim, who was on his third coming as the Galatasaray coach this season. Prior to Saturday, Terim had won the title for the Lions in 1996-97, 1997-98, 1998-99 and 1999-00.
“We deserved this championship,” Terim said after the match. “We had also won the championship at the end of the regular season,” he said, underlying that this triumph was no fluke.
Both teams finished the match with 10 men after Fenerbahçe's Senegal striker Issiar Dia got his marching orders in the 65th for a second bookable offense, and Galatasaray's veteran Czech Republic defender Tomas Ujfalusi was ejected in the 80th -- also for a double yellow.
Single-point lead means a lot
Going to Kadıköy, Galatasaray led Fenerbahçe by a single point, and so a draw was enough for the Lions, as Galatasaray is popularly called, to win the Turkish league title for the 18th time -- the same as Fenerbahçe. The Canaries, however, faced a must-win situation to win the championship.
Football is no meritocracy, but on Saturday evening it was, as the team that really deserved the championship won it. The Lions beat the Yellow Canaries 3-1 in week 14 of the Spor Toto Super League, which leapfrogged them into first place, and they remained at the summit through Saturday, when they took home the 2011-12 championship trophy.
The Lions won the honorific title of “winter champion” in December after finishing first at the halfway point. They also finished first at the end in the regular season last month -- nine points ahead of nearest rival Fenerbahçe.
And because the points earned during the regular season were halved when the Super Final, introduced by the Turkish Football Federation (TTF) to curb match-fixing, kicked off on April 14, Galatasaray started this inaugural competition with five points.
But the Lions got stuck in a mysterious slump during the Super Final, where they did not win any match at home (Türk Telekom Arena) but did not lose any on the road either. The Lions beat Trabzonspor and Beşiktaş away and also drew with Fenerbahçe on the road on Saturday. But they lost to Fenerbahçe at home and drew with Trabzonspor and Beşiktaş.
Fener also deserves praise
Fenerbahçe, on the other hand, was the most successful of the four teams in the Super Final with four wins, one draw and one loss in six outings. The Canaries defeated the Lions away and drew at home with them on Saturday. They beat Beşiktaş at home but lost away, and subdued Trabzonspor both at home and on the road.
This was not a bad performance by Fenerbahçe, whose attention was really distracted by off-pitch events. The Fenerbahçe club is the protagonist in the ongoing match-fixing scandal, which has engulfed Turkish football like wildfire since it erupted on July 3 last year.
The club was forced to withdraw from this season's UEFA Champions League, sell star players like Nigerian striker Emmanuel Emenike, who was implicated in the rigging scandal, Uruguay defender Diego Lugano, Senegal forward Mamadou Niang and Brazil defender Andre Santos.
Chairman Azız Yıldırım is still incarcerated pending further trial, while his assistants İlhan Ekşioğlu and Şekip Mosturoğlu were released recently after months in İstanbul's Metris jail. However, they were slapped with a disciplinary measure called “deprivation of rights,” which amounts to barring a person from any administrative or sports activities, including going to stadiums.
That the Canaries managed to finish second in the league and qualify for the final of the elusive Turkish Cup that they have not won in three decades is something worthy of praise. Fener plays Bursaspor in the cup final on Wednesday.
Ayhan bids bye bye
The Galatasaray players dedicated this championship to attacking midfielder Ayhan Akman, who is quitting professional football after 18 years and joined Galatasaray from Beşiktaş in 2001. Ironically, Ayhan wears the No. 18 shirt and called it quits after 18 years on the same day Galatasaray won its 18th league championship.
“I wholeheartedly thank my friends for honoring me with the championship as I am bowing out of professional football,” Ayhan noted.
Champion Galatasaray will take part in the UEFA Champions League proper next season and Fenerbahçe in the Champions League qualifiers.
Trabzonspor finished third after drawing 1-1 away with Beşiktaş on Friday and will be playing in the UEFA Europa League next season. Bursaspor finished first in the Super Final Europa League group playoffs and will play fourth-place Beşiktaş for a spot in the Europa League next season. But if Bursaspor wins the Turkish Cup, both Bursaspor and Beşiktaş will qualify for the Europa League next season.
This league season may be over, but it will be remembered for many years to come for its thrills, intrigue and emotions.
Thousands welcome victors home
Thousands of Galatasaray fans and footballers celebrated the Lions' victory as champions of the 2011-2012 season early on Sunday at the Florya Metin Oktay facilities.
After winning the Spor Toto Super League title, Galatasaray coaches, staff and footballers left Fenerbahçe Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium singing and chanting in celebration. About two hours later they arrived at the Florya Metin Oktay facilities, where thousands of their fans enthusiastically greeted them.
“Here are the fans, here are the champions. Why not fix matches, why not fix matches, why not fix matches, [Fenerbahçe Chairman] Aziz Yıldırım,” shouted the fans in reference to an extensive match-fixing probe into Turkey's football clubs.
Galatasaray coach Terim cheered and waved the newly won trophy from the balcony.