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Welcome back to ‘Hell’: Man United braced for Galatasaray cauldron

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Champions League - Group A - Manchester United v Galatasaray - Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain - October 3, 2023 Galatasaray's Mauro Icardi misses from the penalty spot REUTERS/Carl Recine Acquire Licensing Rights

Thirty years after Manchester United left Galatasaray with their Champions League hopes in tatters on one of the most notorious nights in the club’s history, they will return to “hell” for another do-or-die clash on Nov 29.

The Red Devils sit bottom of Group A and will be eliminated if they lose to Galatasaray in their penultimate fixture.

It is a predicament that brings back painful memories for United players and fans who ran the gauntlet of hate in Istanbul back in 1993.

Finally crowned English champions the previous season, United were confident of a long run in their first European Cup campaign since 1969.

A surprise 3-3 draw against Galatasaray in the second-round, first leg at Old Trafford put that ambition in peril, but even then United were not fully aware of the cauldron that awaited them in Turkey.

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They were greeted at the airport by thousands of Galatasaray fans, one waving the infamous banner that said “Welcome to Hell”, while others threw missiles and menacingly drew their fingers across their throats.

Alex Ferguson, United’s manager then, described the intimidation as being “exposed to as much hostility and harassment I have ever known”.

The nightmare was only just beginning as United, clearly unsettled by the volcanic atmosphere in the Ali Sami Yen Stadium, failed to get the result they needed.

Galatasaray held on for the draw, knocking out United on away goals and sparking an appropriately chaotic finale.

United’s star striker Eric Cantona was attacked by a Turkish police officer wielding a truncheon after being sent off following the final whistle.

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When midfielder Bryan Robson tried to come to Cantona’s rescue, he was left with six stitches in a cut arm after being thrown down concrete steps that led to the dressing room.

“The hatred was unbelievable. Even the police started to pick fights with us,” United midfielder Paul Ince said.

Defender Gary Pallister said the atmosphere in United’s matches at Anfield, home of arch-rivals Liverpool, seemed like a “tea party” in comparison to Galatasaray’s.

United’s team bus was bombarded with bricks and rocks on the way out of the stadium, prompting Ferguson to exclaim: “I never want to go back there again.”

Fast forward 30 years, they are returning to Turkey but United manager Erik ten Hag believes his team can handle the hostility.

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“You could see that this team has personality and character in hostile environments, like in Copenhagen. We deal with it,” the 53-year-old Dutchman said.

“I feel quite comfortable (away from home). You have to stay calm in your head, don’t get too emotional. You have to control it.

“Don’t give them anything. We know how to deal with it, we know what we can do and we are confident. We have to make it our game.”

Captain Bruno Fernandes added: “We know that’s going to be tough, but we have to think that we can do it because we have done it in the past in difficult situations. Galatasaray away is going to be great, is going to be an amazing atmosphere. We prepare for that.”

Galatasaray have been a house of horrors for United, who have failed to win any of their three visits, losing their most recent encounter there 1-0 in the 2012-13 Champions League group stage.

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Although the Ali Sami Yen Stadium closed in 2011, there is little doubt Galatasaray fans can replicate the wall of sound that greeted United three decades ago when they meet at the 52,600-capacity RAMS Park.

Ten Hag’s side can take heart from the way they survived a hostile Goodison Park to beat Everton 3-0 in the English Premier League over the weekend.

He will also be boosted by the return of Rasmus Hojlund and Antony from injury, while Marcus Rashford is suspended. The Red Devils have won two in a row while keeping two clean sheets.

Emerging unscathed from their latest visit to the Galatasaray inferno would be another significant step in the right direction for the manager and his troubled team. AFP

-AFP

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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