It started on a Tuesday night and ended on a Wednesday afternoon: Galatasaray won the “longest” match in Champions League history 1-0, knocking Juventus out.
Wesley Sneijder’s goal decided the game in an epic Champions League battle that had to be interrupted due to heavy snowfall one night beforehand, allowing Galatasaray to pip the Old Lady to second spot in the group.
A dramatic finish from Sneijder, who scored low to Gianluigi Buffon’s right after being set up by a smart header by Didier Drogba, broke the deadlock, sending Galatasaray into the last 16 in the Champions League, and Juventus into the Europa League.
A draw was enough for Juve to join group winner Real Madrid, who beat FC Copenhagen a night before, in the next round, and the difficult conditions made it seem neither side was likely to score.
“It was a difficult game because the pitch was really difficult,” said Galatasaray coach Roberto Mancini. “But in the end the team deserved to win.”
After Portuguese referee Pedro Proencha deemed the pitch to be unplayable in the 32nd minute of the match on Tuesday evening following a sudden, though not unexpected, snowfall, the game was destined to become an epic, at least in import, if not quality. The winner would get its place in the elite top 16 in the competition, while the loser would go home. For Juventus, elimination would mean a rare failure in the group stages, and for Galatasaray, who has spent big in the last two seasons to lure the likes of Sneijder and Drogba, it would mean a financial burden.
When play restarted yesterday on the 32nd minute mark, the conditions were not ideal, particularly for UEFA’s showpiece event, the Champions League. It was mud instead of glitter, dirt instead of beauty. It was more like an English FA Cup game in the 1980s, requiring heart instead of skills, and battle-spirit instead of game plans. Only the fittest, and luckiest, would survive.
After a couple of well-built attacks failed to produce a goal from Galatasaray early in the second half, Juventus began to control the game, threatening a strike that would have consigned Cim Bom to the Europa League. But the Lions had the final say, as a long ball headed down by Drogba to Sneijder made the difference. The Dutchman, who had received much criticism since his blockbuster arrival in January, wrote his name in the canon of Galatasaray folklore with the dramatic goal.
“Wesley is okay, he played very well and scored an important goal for us,” Mancini said.
The maestro, however, was humble, just as he has appeared throughout his debut year in Istanbul, focusing on the team’s achievement rather than savoring personal praise.
“It was a much needed win for the team,” he told broadcaster NTV Spor after the game. “It was our most important win of the season.”
Not just this season: The game is bound to become one of the most important moments in the club’s history. Hundreds of thousands of people watched a Champions League game from their offices for the first time. For years to come, it will be asked: “Where were you when Sneijder scored that goal?”
Every football fan in the country will remember where they were when hell froze over, a Champions League match was extended to two days and Sneijder scored a goal downing the Old Lady. This is what makes an immediate classic.