ISTANBUL - It could have been easier for Galatasaray, but after last week's unexpected loss to Metalist Kharkiv, it needs at least one point to qualify from the UEFA Cup Group B. Playing at Hertha Berlin today, Galatasaray will look for a win and recapturing the 'spirit of 2000,' hoping to pave the way to the final at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium.
After two commanding performances and one unexpected slump, Galatasaray nears the end of its UEFA Cup Group B phase, and all it needs is at least a draw when it takes on Hertha Berlin tonight.
Galatasaray beat Olympiacos 1-0 and won 2-0 at Benfica in its first two games. A win against Metalist Kharkiv would have seen the Lions win the group, but a 1-0 loss to the Ukrainians meant that the job is not yet done.
With six points from three games in Group B, it needs another one to be sure of qualifying for the next round of 32 - although six may be enough to go through as well. Only once has a total of six points not been enough to progress beyond the UEFA Cup group stage.
The Turkish side will feel at home in Berlin's Olympic stadium, with tens of thousands of tickets going to Turks living in Germany. According to German daily Bild, 40,000 Galatasaray fans are expected to watch the game.
’Like an away game’
"Hertha will be playing an away game, playing on its own ground," Bild wrote yesterday. "Imagine you are entering your house and there are people you do not know. That is how the situation will be for Hertha in the game."
The paper also quoted Hertha’s veteran midfielder Pal Dardai, who stated that Galatasaray was playing well in away games this year.
"Turkish players always play with a big heart, and force their potential to the fullest in away games," said the 32-year-old Hungarian. "However, they do not like physical football much and we can win if everybody in our team battles hard."
Dardai is the only remaining member from the team of Galatasaray’s previous visit to the Olympic Stadium in Berlin in the 1999/2000 season. That game marked a crucial milestone in Galatasaray’s eventual walk to win the UEFA Cup - after a series of losses, Galatasaray desperately needed a win to take the third spot in the Champions League group to qualify for the UEFA Cup.
"It was a very bad night for us," Dardai recalled the 4-1 game. "We were humiliated by Galatasaray. We should avoid a repeat of that."
From coach Michael Skibbe to technical consultant Karl Heinz Feldkamp, as well as seven Germany-born players and two, Lincoln and Fernando Meira, with long Bundesliga experience, Galatasaray has a strong German notion in it. It hopes that this will help when playing against Hertha.
The Berliners, on the other hand, have two points after drawing twice and will not know until the last round whether they will advance.
Galatasaray hopes to win the game making its way to the round of 32, but actually, it aims to go further than that. The Lions want to see their UEFA Cup story end happily in Istanbul.
The final game will be played in Istanbul’s Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium, the home of Galatasaray’s fiercest rival Fenerbahçe, on May 20, next year.
Tickets will go on sale Friday, Dec. 5, via the Turkish Football Federation’s Web site (Türkiye Futbol Federasyonu) and are priced from 75-130 euros. The application process will end Jan. 23, 2009.
The first ticket is symbolically given to Galatasaray great Bülent Korkmaz, who lifted the cup as skipper in the year 2000.
"I hope Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe play the final," said the legendary defender. Fenerbahçe’s star left back Roberto Carlos was also present at the ceremony. "I don’t want to take a picture with the ticket," the Brazilian joked, "I want to play the final."