Leader Galatasaray has virtually turned the Spor Toto Super League into a one-horse race after overcoming match-weary Beşiktaş 3-2 in a rough-and-tumble İstanbul derby Sunday night.
Beşiktaş’s Portuguese coach, Carlos Carvalhal, whose team is battling on two tough fronts, had lamented over “unfair competition” ahead of the week 28 match at Türk Telekom Arena. “On Sunday we will be playing our fourth competitive match in 12 days, while our opponents [Galatasaray] will have rested for eight or nine days,” Carvalhal said.
Beşiktaş played Portuguese powerhouse SC Braga both away and at home during this 12-day period and progressed 2-1 on aggregate and beat Ankara’s Gençlerbiriği 3-2 at home in the Super League on Feb. 19 before bowing to Galatasaray in Sunday’s debacle at the arena.
And maybe that’s why Carvalhal seemed gracious in defeat. “First and foremost, I want to thank my players,” he said. “They again performed well [even though they lost]. After the multitude of matches they have played, I thought they would lose their concentration. But that was not the case, as they went down fighting [at the arena],” he noted.
Runaway leader Galatasaray
The victory means Galatasaray currently leads second-place archrival Fenerbahçe by nine points with six games to go, third-place Beşiktaş by 14 and number-four outsider Trabzonspor by 17. There are still 18 points to play for, but judging by the performances by the teams so far, these playoff contenders do not seem capable of toppling Galatasaray along the way.
Galatasaray was therefore the odds-on favorite, not only because it was playing in front of home fans, but because it was also facing an extremely exhausted Beşiktaş. To make matters worse for the Eagles, Portugal midfielder Manuel Fernandes -- arguably the best player on the squad -- was suspended for an accumulation of yellow cards.
The favored Lions, firing on all cylinders, took the game to the Black Eagles as soon as referee Fırat Aydınus blew the whistle for kickoff at 7 p.m. The man of the match, Johan Elmander, put the Lions ahead in the 15th minute when he reconnected a pass from Ivory Coast teammate Emmanuel Eboue into the back of the net -- and there was no change in the score by halftime.
Defender İbrahim Toraman equalized for the Black Eagles in the 49th, but Brazilian midfielder Felipe Melo scored three minutes later to make it 2-1 for Galatasaray. An own goal in the 75th by young Galatasaray defender Semih Kaya, whose surname means “rock,” evened the score for the Eagles.
However, Elmander’s header goal in the first minute of stoppage time (91st) gave the Lions a hard-fought 3-2 victory, thereby consolidating their position at the top of the league.
If you can’t score in the beautiful game, you will concede, they say. Just a minute before Elmander’s goal (90th), Beşiktaş’s Portugal forward Hugo Almeida headed wide from the exact same position. There is no justice in football.
Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim congratulated his men for a job well done, but also heaped praise on Beşiktaş, Turkey’s sole representative in Europe.
“I congratulate Beşiktaş,” Terim said. “On Thursday they progressed to [the last 16 of] the UEFA Europa League. I wish them success against their next opponent, Atletico Madrid, and also hope they stay the course in this competition,” he added.