ISTANBUL - A seven-goal game put Galatasaray into a coma last Sunday. It took another seven-goal thriller to bring them out of it.
The Kocaelispor loss forced Michael Skibbe to bid farewell to his eight-month Bosporus career, as the board decided to replace him with the former Galatasaray legend Bülent Korkmaz, also known as the "great skipper" or "braveheart," hoping the "Lions’ spirit" would come back. The result, battle and drama of Galatasaray’s first game with Bülent Korkmaz at the helm lived up to expectation.
As supporters also saw the match as an early step to a dream finale, which would be staged at Fenerbahçe’s Şükrü Saracoğlu stadium on May 20, the dream of braveheart began a nightmare thanks to a very early Bordeaux goal, the result of an unfathomable error by center-back Fernando Meira, in the very first seconds of the game. But as everyone expected, Galatasaray piled pressure on the away team to equalize and finally, Arda Turan, a new flagman candidate, found the net and revitalized the Lions. A few minutes after Harry Kewell took the stage and put in an amazing strike 30 meters to record one of the best goals ever scored at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium, if not the whole history of the Cup.
In the second half, the Lions started to see Bordeaux as prey. After minutes of nice pinpoint passes and aggressive attacks, Arda scored his second goal. The supporters were already dancing in jubilation, they were thinking about the next phase against Hamburger SV. But two goals in three minutes froze the Ali Sami Yen crowd rigid.
However, not all hopes were lost. Most believed that Galatasaray could change the course of the game with a late goal again, as many Turkish teams did last year: Fenerbahçe managed to come back from two goals conceded in the first ten minutes against Sevilla in the Champions League and Turkish national team won three games with last-gasp goals at Euro 2008.
This time, an extra-time victory came thanks to pure inspiration from Sabri Sarıoğlu, who had become something of a persona non grata among the fans, especially after the Kocaelispor match, marking the epic victory with a missile from the edge of the area in the last minute: 4-3.
When the final whistle was blown, Galatasaray grabbed a ticket to the last 16 of the UEFA Cup. It was clear the team had a long road to the final in Kadıköy, but for fans, Galatasaray got over an important hurdle. The team got itself back together only a few days after suffering one of the worst defeats of its history at the hands of the league’s bottom team, and reached a win with the management of a coach who was at the helm for only three days. This was a perfect example of Galatasaray’s never-say-die attitude, reminding many "the spirit of 2000."
Nine years after the first and only time it has won, Galatasaray looks to have a decent chance of claiming the UEFA Cup again.
Coach Bülent Korkmaz, however, said it was very early to talk about the final.
"Of course when you are playing in a competition, the main target is to play the final," said Korkmaz. "But you have to go step by step."
Korkmaz showed perfect humility and thanked his predecessor Skibbe for getting a good result in the first leg. He also played down his impact on the team. "I have been coaching this team for three days, you cannot do much in this time, and I don’t have a magic wand in my hand," he said. "I talked to all of my players before the game. I reminded them that they were all good players, but they needed to be a team first. A coach should talk openly and clearly to his players and that was what I did."