ISTANBUL, Turkey February 21 – Galatasaray midfielder Nordin Amrabat has admitted the ambitious Turkish team face an uphill task to stay in the Champions League after their 1-1 draw at home to Schalke 04 in the last 16, first-leg.
The Royal Blues take a slim advantage back to Gelsenkirchen for the return leg on March 12 after Burak Yilmaz gave Galatasaray an early lead, before US midfielder Jermaine Jones levelled for Schalke on the stroke of half-time.
“The formula for victory is very simple: we need to score and win, but it won’t be easy,” said Amrabat after Wednesday’s game.
Schalke 04 ignored poor recent form to hold the hosts and could have left the Turk Telekom Arena with a win after missing a host of chances as Galatasaray, including star signings Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder, failed to fire.
The Royal Blues arrived in Istanbul with one win in their last 12 games, but, along with neighbours Borussia Dortmund and Juventus, are now one of only three undefeated teams left in this season’s Champions League.
“We are really happy with the result,” beamed goal-scorer Jones.
“We made one or two mistakes and conceded the goal, but all together we played well.
“Our goal was important, we’ll see how things go from here. We have earned a lot of respect.”
However, Jones is suspended for the return leg on March 12 after his appeals for a booking against Selcuk Inan saw him earn a yellow card of his own on 35 minutes.
“The action which led to my yellow card was dumb from me, I hope I can still play in the quarter-final,” he added.
Schalke have now lost just one of their last ten European away fixtures, including victories at Olympiakos and Arsenal.
With Dortmund having earned a 2-2 draw at Donetsk and after Bayern Munich’s impressive 3-1 win at Arsenal on Tuesday, all three Bundesliga clubs have a strong chance of making the quarter-finals.
“It was a great game from my team, it was a very compact and engaged team performance” said relieved Schalke coach Jens Keller, who was making his Champions League debut as coach.
“We created a few chances, but unfortunately didn’t take them all.”
Schalke’s rising star Julian Draxler, who made three appearances for the senior Germany team last year having risen up the ranks, said the draw was an important confidence booster.
“We put in a focused performance and are in a good position ahead of the return leg,” said the 19-year-old midfielder.
“We have experienced some problems in the past few weeks, but with today’s performance we can go into the return leg with some confidence.”
Despite Drogba and Sneijder making their Champions League debuts for the ambitious Turkish club since joining last month from Shanghai Shenhua and Inter Milan respectively, both had quiet games as the hosts failed to dominate.
“In the first half, the atmosphere was really intense, but it wasn’t so bad after the break,” said Schalke goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand.
“We can still be real spoilsports, Schalke are a team for the big competition.
“Even when things go to pot, we’re still here.”