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St Gallen self-destruct in Istanbul

Unconsolable: own goal scorer Marc Zellweger after St Gallen's defeat Keystone

The Swiss football champions, St Gallen, have failed to make it into the European Champions League despite drawing 2-2 in the return leg of their qualifying tie against the Turkish champions, Galatasaray.

Trailing 2-1 from their first leg encounter in Zurich, Marcel Koller’s team needed to pull off an incredible away win over a club famed for their dominance at home. The confidence of the Galatasaray fans was noticeable by their absence – only a third of the stadium’s seats were occupied for a match which the home supporters clearly believed had already been won in Switzerland.

Their confidence seemed well-founded in the first half as two defensive errors in quick succession undid what had been a reasonably bright start for the team from eastern Switzerland.

First defender Marc Zellweger headed a harmless-looking Galatasaray cross into his own goal while apparently aiming to put the ball over the line for a corner. Five minutes later Daniel Imhof grabbed the shirt of Galatasaray’s star striker, Jardel, in a desperate attempt to stop the Brazilian adding to his impressive goal tally.

It was an attempt that failed. Jardel himself stepped up to take the resulting penalty, slowly rolling the ball into the left hand corner of the gaol as Jörg Stiel dived in the opposite direction.

On the half hour St Gallen struck back with a well worked set-piece. Again a Brazilian began the move, Jairo firing in a perfect free-kick for St Gallen’s Romanian striker, Ionel Gane, to head home. But with the Swiss side now trailing 4-2 overall a comeback looked close to impossible going into the second half.

Galatasaray came out the strongest after the break, and for much of the closing stages it looked as if St Gallen could hope for little more than an honourable defeat. But with just five minutes to go the Swiss side were able to at least level the match if not the tie.

The equaliser was reminiscent of St Gallen’s only goal in the first leg – Charles Amoah the scorer following another bizarre mistake from former Brazilian world cup keeper, Claudio Taffarel. Caught off his line in Zurich, Taffarel this time chose to bounce the ball just inches away from St Gallen’s Ghanaian striker who literally pounced at the opportunity to rob the keeper of the ball before cleverly poking it into the Galatasaray net.

Suddenly St Gallen’s dream was within reach once more but with just minutes to go, Galatasaray were able to cope with the renewed Swiss attack. The match ended 2-2, with the Swiss champions beaten by just a single goal over both legs.

All the talk of a mauling in Istanbul proved to be nothing more than just talk. Having held their own in Turkey against the current UEFA Cup holders, St Gallen at least have the compensation of a place in the UEFA Cup themselves. Their new dream will be of matching Galatasaray’s achievements last season and turning Champions League elimination into UEFA Cup triumph.

by Mark Ledsom

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR