A goalkeeper comes to mind whenever saving a penalty kick in football is mentioned. Rarely, if ever, does a midfielder -- especially in the 90th minute.
But Galatasaray's Brazil midfielder Felipe Melo, alias “Pitbull,” made it happen on Saturday when he saved a penalty in the last minute of regulation time in week 13 of the Spor Toto Super League against bottom-placed Sanica Boru Elazığspor away at Atatürk Stadium. The victory earned the Lions three points and kept them atop the league.
And this rare occurrence, deservedly so, has been splashed across the Internet and sports pages around the globe.
With 88th minutes on the stadium clock and leader Galatasaray, aka the Lions, leading 1-0, Elazığspor was awarded a penalty by referee Özgür Yankaya and Galatasaray's Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera was sent off for bringing down goal-bound 29-year-old defender Ahmet Görkem Görk.
For the record: Ahmet Görkem began his football career with the Galatasaray junior team in 1998-99 and later played for the senior team from 2002-04. And he almost brought down the team that taught him how to play football.
The Lions had already made three substitutions in the Elazığ match so Melo had to change places with Muslera and do the job of the goalkeeper. The balding Brazil midfielder donned the goalkeeper's gloves and then his shirt and walked reluctantly toward the Galatasaray goal.
And with 90 minutes on the clock the spot kick was taken by late substitute striker Göksu Türkdoğan, the Elazığspor penalty specialist. Melo guessed correctly, dived full-length to the right and made a great save -- blocking the ball with both hands and sending it out of touch. And he celebrated his save with his trademark Pitbull dance.
There were no other goals in the four minutes of additional time and so the Lions and their coach, Fatih Terim, went home with three lucky points.
“I waited until the last minute [before diving],” Melo said after the match. “Before the penalty I wasn't sure and I looked at the penalty taker. And I can say the secret behind saving this spot kick was waiting until the final minute,” he noted.
The record books show that midfielder Melo had faced a similar penalty situation against Barcelona on Sept. 17, 2006, when he was playing for La Liga's Racing Santander. For the same reason, Melo found himself in goal but was unable to save the penalty kick, which was taken by his compatriot Ronaldinho. He dived in vain to the right as Ronaldinho sent the ball in the opposite direction and Barca went on to win 3-0.
Terim pays price for over-confidence
Galatasaray had garnered only a point out of a possible six prior to Saturday, most probably due to coach Terim's over-confidence and his underestimating the opponent. And he almost paid the exact same price on Saturday but for all-rounder and savior Melo.
The Lions drew 1-1 away with second-from-bottom Mersin İdman Yurdu in week 11 and were humiliated 3-1 at home by struggling Kardemir Karabükspor in week 12. Terim had thought these opponents were easy meat and so took them lightly. But that was not the case, as the results speak for themselves.
On Saturday, Terim fielded a very weak team against Elazığspor. Star midfielder Selçuk İnan was suspended and Yekta Kurtuluş, who deputized for him, was one of the stars of the night and scored the only goal of the match in the 50th minute.
But his benching both defenders Emmanuel Eboue and Dany Achille Nounkeu Tchounkeu as well as goal-machine Burak Yılmaz clearly means that Terim really looked down on Elazığ.
Sweden striker Johan Elmander is a far cry from the player he was last season. And including the off-form Swede in the starting XI meant the Lions played with 10 men in the first half and that's why they could not score in this half.
The Lions did up the tempo in the second half, when midfielder Aydın Yılmaz and winger Emre Çolak were brought in to replace sleepwalking Elmander and Engin Baytar, respectively. But despite their domination, the Lions could only score once and squandered almost half a dozen clear chances.
In football, if you can't score, you'll eventually concede goals, and that is what almost happened in the match between defending champion Galatasaray and relegation-threatened Elazığspor on Saturday.
Terim rued his team's missed chances. “If you don't score a second goal in matches like this, you can get into trouble at any moment,” he said. “It appears the penalty and red card were justified. Maybe we can say Melo saved the penalty or the opponent could not convert it,” he further said.
With Medical Park Antalyaspor drawing 1-1 at Bursa, Galatasaray now enjoys sole possession of first place after the hard-fought victory. Kasımpaşa and Orduspor also shared the spoils after a 1-1 draw in İstanbul in the other Super League match on Saturday.
Cash-strapped Beşiktaş put itself firmly back in this season's championship race after thrashing Aegean newcomer Akhisar Belediyespor 3-1 at İnönü Stadium on Friday.