Lions set sights on Europa after Champions League exit

The Lions will now face a do-or-die battle with Kazakh debutant Astana when the two teams meet in the group finale in İstanbul on Dec. 8

Wednesday’s result meant Atletico progresses to the CL knockout stages along with Benfica, which drew 2-2 at Astana. It is worth noting that Atletico also beat Galatasaray 2-0 in the İstanbul leg on Sept. 15.

France forward Antoine Griezmann scored a goal in each half as Atletico comfortably overcame the troubled Lions on Wednesday. The 24-year-old found the back of the net in the 13th and 65th minutes, set on both occasions by captain and defensive midfielder Gabriel Fernandez Arenas, alias Gabi.

Griezmann opened the scoring with a header and sealed the victory with a shot from close range. All four of Griezmann’s goals in this season’s Champions League have been against Galatasaray. Replays showed the Frenchman appeared to be offside when he scored his second goal, but the referee, two assistant referees, additional assistant referees and a fourth official just could not see it.

Atletico has 10 points from five matches in Group C, while Galatasaray with four points was eliminated. Benfica also moved to 10 points following the draw at Astana, which remained last with three points.

Battle for Europa berth

For ousted Galatasaray and Astana, there will be everything to play for come Dec. 8. But the Lions have an advantage because a draw will be enough for them to continue their European adventure in the second-tier UEFA Europa League.

Galatasaray’s Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera agreed. “The club management and coaches have changed hands too many times in the last two seasons and this may have affected the team’s performance,” he said after the match. “But we should be able to make amends in the game against Astana and continue our journey.”

Atletico leads the group on goal difference and will be slugging it out with Benfica for first place when the teams meet in Portugal on Dec. 8.

It was the third group-stage win for Atletico, which came into the match needing only a draw to reach the next round. Galatasaray has only one win and needed a victory on Wednesday to keep its slim chances alive, but it was not to be.

Atletico was in control for most of the match and the Lions couldn’t threaten much despite the presence of Netherland second striker Wesley Sneijder and Germany forward Lukas Podolski.

Interim coach Claudio Taffarel, for his part, blamed the Lions’ lack of enthusiasm. “Games are played with a totally different tempo in the Champions League,” he said. “That difference was decisive. If you want to achieve something in the Champions League, you need to increase your tempo.”

No matter if it was due to bad luck, form and fitness problems or a combination of them all, the Lions were already making headlines for all the wrong reasons ahead of the Madrid clash.

Galatasaray had developed the very bad habit of conceding goals in stoppage time and so was winless in its last three outings in all competitions before Wednesday.

And the resignation of treble-winning coach Hamza Hamzaoglu last week left the Lions “headless,” or more accurately under the tutelage of goalkeeper coach Taffarel. The club appointed their former striker and coach Mustafa Denizli in place of Hamzaoglu, but the 66-year-old, who signed a contract on Thursday, went to Madrid as a spectator.

Worse still, the off-form Lions were missing captain and playmaker Selcuk İnan and top striker Burak Yılmaz, who were suspended for an accumulation of yellow cards. For the Lions, Wednesday’s encounter was something akin to fighting a losing battle — and little wonder they lost.


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