Lions aiming for Europa spot as they host Astana

Benfica entertains Atletico Madrid in the other game in what is expected to be a thrilling encounter for the Group C lead.

The tiny Kazakh side needs victory, or simply put, has to beat the Lions in İstanbul or be ousted from European competition this season. This indeed is a high-stakes battle for survival with everything to play for at the Arena.

The dust seems to have settled at troubled Galatasaray with new coach Mustafa Denizli now firmly at the helm. Previously winless in four consecutive matches in all competitions — three in the domestic league and one in the Champions League — the Lions put an abrupt end to their victory drought on Friday by beating visiting Bursaspor 3-0 in their domestic league game.

Now the Lions are brimming with confidence and raring to go up against Astana. But Denzli has some walking wounded to deal with. Captain and playmaker Selcuk İnan was bedridden with flu, while left back Hakan Balta was nursing a bruised breastbone, and the duo missed some training sessions over the weekend. French left back Lionel Jules Carole and Manchester City’s Belgium loanee Jason Denayer are still convalescing, and both trained separately from the rest of the team.

But with marksmen Burak Yılmaz, German Lukas Podolski and Dutchman Wesley Benjamin in good form, Denizli is optimistic his men will clear the Astana hurdle. The coach gave his players a day off and told them, “We will come back refreshed and ready for the toughie against Astana.”

Desperate Astana

Astana may be a Champions League debutant, but the Kazakh champion has exceeded expectations thus far and so the Lions cannot afford to take them lightly.

Coached by former Fenerbahce midfielder Stanimir Stoilov (1992-93), the Kazakhs made history by finishing unbeaten at home in Group C — recording draws in all three games. However, they have not won away and naturally will be trying to do so in the finale on Thursday if the Lions allow them to.

Ghana forward Patrick Twumasi, DR Congo striker Junior Kabananga Kalonji and Central African midfielder Foxi Kethevoama are Astana’s dangermen, and the Lions should rein them in.

A draw will be enough for Galatasaray to go through, and it will be no use trying to commit hara-kiri. And so the motto should be “if you can’t win, don’t lose.”

Kickoff is at 9:45 p.m., and the referee is to be Craig Alexander Thomson of Scotland. His assistants will be David McGeachie and William Conquer, while the fourth official will be Alan Mulvanny. The additional assistant referees are Steven McLean and Kevin Clancy.