Galatasaray, Turkey’s sole surviving representative in the UEFA Champions League this year, will play against English side Manchester United on Wednesday in their first game of Group H play.
Defending Spor Toto Super League champion Galatasaray has a tough match ahead at Old Trafford. Not only are the Lions facing the group favorite in their first game, but they are also fighting a curse on British soil, as they have never once won a match in England.
The best Galatasaray has managed was a 3-3 tie against Manchester United in the second round of the 1993-94 season. That was enough to help it advance all those years ago and the Lions are no doubt wondering if they can squeak by yet again.
“Obviously not at the time because we lost and went out, but it was a great experience for us,” recalled veteran United leftie Ryan Giggs, who was present at the İstanbul game in 1993. “They were a good team then and they will be a good team now,” he added.
Two other games played between the teams ended in draws, but the most recent one was a 4-0 thrashing of Galatasaray by Manchester.
Aside from that detail, Manchester has more international experience, as this marks the team’s 17th consecutive Champions League campaign. Playing mostly in the lower-rung UEFA Europa League, Galatasaray is now entering its first Champion’s League competition in five years.
Lions in Europe
However, this does not necessarily spell doom for the Lions. The team has made enormous changes this year -- even coming back from one of the most dismal seasons in its history in 2010-11 to become champions in 2011-12.
With new additions over the summer, including top-notch Turkey strikers Umut Bulut and Burak Yılmaz, the İstanbul team is getting even more pumped up for this year. These two join striker Johan Elmander from Sweden to form a very offensive squad. With midfielders like Felipe Melo and Selçuk İnan, as well as winger Nordin Amrabat, the team is solid in the center as well.
This fits in with coach Fatih Terim’s ambitions for the Champions League campaign. “We have to play without fearing the outcome,” he recently stated, adding: “Manchester is the world favorite before the match. It is really important to do something [big] in that kind of atmosphere.”
Defense is where the Lions may be compromised. Galatasaray recently suffered the loss of veteran Czech defender Tomas Ujfalusi, one of its key players, last season. The 34 year old is expected to be out for up to five months. The Lions will be relying on Cote d’Ivoire right back Emmanuel Eboue, Turkey’s Semih Kaya and Hakan Balta, as well as 35-year-old new Brazilian signing Cristiano Marques Gomes, or Cris.
Offense is the best form of defense, they say. But Galatasaray may opt to play a defensive game at Old Trafford, since the opponent is Manchester United, and might instead rely on fast counterattacks.
United going for goal
Manchester United may not have missed entering the Champion’s League in 17 years, but Sir Alex Ferguson’s side is looking to make up for an early defeat last year, when it was eliminated in the group stage.
Netherlands striker Robin van Persie and Japanese mid Shinji Kagawa round out a powerful Manchester United side, which includes keeper David de Gea, England center-back Rio Ferdinand and iconic striker Wayne Rooney. “If we don’t go through, we will be criticized and pilloried for it and quite rightly. We’ve had our warning and I don’t anticipate going out this time,” Ferguson said about the impending UEFA competition. “Certainly, we’ll do better than last year -- no question about that,” he added.
The teams share Group H with CFR Cluj from Romania and Braga from Portugal, who will also be playing at 21:45 on Wednesday.