In a match that took on ‘thriller’ status, Galatasaray were able to fend off a second half charge by FC Schalke 04 to win 3-2 and eliminate the Germans from the Champions League. Galatasary SK advance to the final eight of the competition following their superb effort, leaving behind German hopes for a three-club Bundesliga advance into the tournament’s pressure-packed final rounds.
Schalke came into Tuesday’s Champions League fixture on the wave of a mixture of positive and negative events. Coach Jens Keller was without striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who was injured during the second half in Schalke’s huge derby win over Borussia Dortmund. Also unavailable to Keller was the suspended Jermaine Jones, as well as such longer-term missing contributors as Ibrahim Afellay and Kyriakos Papadopooulos. Keller, also without a banged up Ciprian Marica, had to go with the struggling Teemu Pukki to lead the line. But in more positive news, Keller led a team that had rebounded to win three straight Bundesliga matches since their first-leg date with Galatasaray, and had recently extended the contract of captain Benedikt Höwedes.
The Turkish visitors have not fared quite as well as the home side since their first-leg encounter in Istanbul. Galatasaray has won, lost and draw in its last three domestic matches, and were unable to find a goal in their last 180 minutes of SuperLig play. Veteran coach Fatih Terim fielded an identical starting XI to the one he named for the first-leg match with Schalke, with the exception of replacing captain Sabri Sarıoğlu with long-time Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboué.
First Half Galatasaray Dominant
Although Schalke drove downfield and earned a deep throw-in as the match opened up, the first half belonged to Galatasaray. The Turkish club’s performance was as colorful as their kit, winning balls, holding possession and continually launching dangerous attacks. After a more conservative effort in the first leg in Istanbul, Terim’s club were in full attack mode, and cashed in on their forward movement.
Schalke were fortunate to avoid a penalty call in the 5th minute, as the prolific Burak Yilmaz was felled in the box by a young Sead Kolašinac, although Didier Drogba jumped on the resulting loose ball for a quality chance. A minute later, the former Chelsea striker threatened again, forcing the first of a series of quality saves from Schalke keeper Timo Hildebrand. S04 captain Benedikt Höwedes derailed a Yilmaz charge a few minutes later, but Turkish midfielder Selçuk İnan tested Hildebrand in the 13th minute, with the keeper passing the challenge.
With only a mild Michel Bastos chance in the 8th minute to their credit, Schalke surpisingly stepped up for the game’s opening goal. A Jefferson Farfan corner kick in the 17th minute was loose after Höwedes’ header rolled to the Soviet-born Roman Neustädter. The midfielder made no mistake, left-footing a low shot to give the Royal Blues a 1-0 (2-1 aggregate) lead with an away goal in hand.
Galatasaray were able to erase Schalke’s joy by the end of the first half, however. With the Turkish club holding the edge in possession, a brilliant strike from distance via Gelsenkirchen-born Hamit Altintop in the 37th minute knotted the contest. No Schalke player contested Altintop’s attempt, as he teed off in plenty of space and swerved his shot to the left of the diving Hildebrand. Further heartbreak for S04 supporters ensued four minutes later, when Yilmaz skinned Höwedes down the left in his solo approach to goal. Yilmaz brilliantly chipped the ball over the charging Hildebrand for his eighth Champions League goal (tying a record with 6 goals in 6 consecutive CL matches) and a 2-1 Galatasaray lead that held through the remainder of the half. Although Schalke equaled Galatasaray with five shots on goal during the first 45 minutes, Galatasaray held 54% of possession and, more importantly, were more effective in attack and desirous in claiming challenges.
Down a goal in aggregate and needing two goals to offset Galatasaray’s lead in away goals, Schalke Coach Jens Keller brought in Christian Fuchs following intermission to bolster the attack. Normally a left back, the strong-footed Fuchs moved up to the left midfield position, with 23 year-old Marco Höger switching to the right and Neustädter subbed off. Hildebrand once again was called upon to deny a Yilmaz opportunity seven minutes into the restart, and his heroics seemed to stimulate Schalke, as Die Knappen became more focused, fluid and dangerous in attack.
Teemu Pukki, whose has suffered from a severe sophomore slump in Gelsenkirchen, got a shot off from close range shortly following Hildebrand’s stop. Though perhaps ill-advised (with options elsewhere), the aggressive play by Pukki got his motor running and he became threatening after an invisible first half. The striker followed two minutes later with a much better effort on goal, this time from the left of goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, forcing the Uruguayan into a more difficult stop. Julian Draxler stepped up, too, beating two men to fire off a just-high shot past the hour mark, and Schalke were in control of the match, if not the score.
Finally, the improved attacking from the home side reaped a result. In the 62nd minute, Jefferson Farfan dribbled towards the center of the pitch, laying off a squared pass for Höger, whose well-struck shot from distance hit the Galatasaray crossbar and bounced all the way back. Höger headed forward, and Farfan laid off the ball for a charging Pukki, with the Finn, the ball and Muslera all arriving together. The ball squirted to right back Astuto Uchida, who alertly passed off to Michel Bastos. The Brazilian left-footed into the Galatasaray net unguarded by the prone Muslera and Schalke had equalized at 2-2. Celebrations at the Veltins, but with 28 minutes to go, the Royal Blues yet needed another score to nullify Galatasaray’s away-goal margin
Although Galatasaray’s Wesley Sneijder had a quick response in mind, the remainder of the half saw a thrilling performance by Schalke fall short of the all-important game winner. Muslera was the equal of his Schalke counterpart, saving his team as the teenaged Draxler threatened but could not break through. The nervy final minutes saw Keller bring in Max Meyer and Chinedu Obasi to provide fresh inpetus for a relentless if tiring offense, but in the end, even with five minutes added time, Schalke could not muster the final victorious strike. The fine second effort fell short, with instead Galatasaray’s Nordin Amrabat scoring in the last moment on a 1 on 1 with Hildebrand, to eliminate the Gelsenkirchen side and delight the many Galatasaray fans in attendance at the Veltins. A gallant comeback effort for Schalke fell short of dream fulfillment.
Coach Terim’s Galatasaray squad earned their way into the CL quarters with a brilliant team effort, highlighted by their dominant first half and the goalkeeping of Muslera. Coming into a packed Veltins Arena, they took charge of the game early on and deservedly built a lead that Schalke could not overcome. As Terim commented after the match
Now we’re among the best eight teams in Europe. All Turkey and Galatasaray fans should enjoy this success. I would like to thank all the fans for making sacrifices to come to Germany and watch us. I want to congratulate all my players – I will hug and kiss them all. Players sometimes known for their limited movement and tackling ability were transformed in this game and fought for the team on the pitch. We played like an excellent European team in the first half.
For Schalke, there is much disappointment, missing out on another trip to the Champions League’s late stages. Coach Keller eluded to being surprised by Galatasaray’s diamond shape in midfield, but he certainly made the proper adjustments in the second half, especially bringing in Fuchs, who energized Schalke’s attack down the left flank. The team showed heart and will in the second half, and certainly need not hang heads in shame as they did all they could to find victory despite missing so many key players.
It’s also important to look forward. Schalke still display too much frailty defensively, hoofing out desperate clearances, playing ticky-tac and dangerously losing possession in their own third, and clearly continue to miss the imposing young Papadopoulos in the back. But while Schalke fans can bemoan the lack of spending on backline players recently, and hope for some quality defensive buys in the summer, they can allow themselves to feel good about the splendid performance of Hildebrand, the revitalization of Pukki, and the continued emergence of Julian Draxler. With Draxler and left back Kolašinac only 19 years-old, and sub Max Mayer only 17, there is an exciting core of young players in Gelsenkirchen. And while Keller, a controversial appointment to replace Huub Stevens as head man in December, may not be the long-term solution on the sidelines, one must give props to the former youth squad coach for getting a tremendous effort from his club in attempting a failed comeback. All certainly is not lost, as the club has rebounded from their lackluster play of past months with another legitimate chance for Champions League play next season.
Schalke: Hildebrand – Uchida, Höwedes, Matip, Kolasinac – Höger (Meyer 85′), Neustädter (Fuchs 46′) – Farfan, Draxler, Michel Bastos – Pukki (Obasi 85′)
Galatasaray: Muslera – Eboue, Nounkeu, Semih (Zan 79′), Riera – Sneijder (Amrabat 70′), Selcuk Inan, Felipe Melo, Hamit Altintop – Drogba, Burak
Header courtesy of AFP