ISTANBUL Galatasaray flirted briefly with the notion they could achieve the impossible and overturn a 4-0 deficit against Real Madrid on Tuesday, their comeback a tribute to the attacking spirit of the Turkish champions under coach Fatih Terim.
In a stunning 15-minute second half spell, goals from Emmanuel Eboue, Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba had shattered the assurance of the nine-time champions and fired up the home side with the belief they could reach the semi-finals.
"After that you start thinking about going through. Everyone thought that and we did too," Terim told reporters after the match. "Maybe we didn't go through but we earned the respect of the world with the game we played."
Now in his third spell at Galatasaray, the coach dubbed the "emperor" by Turkish media has a record of instilling a fighting spirit in his teams that brought Galatasaray a UEFA Cup triumph in 2000 and Turkey a semi-final place at Euro 2008.
"I always tell my players they should never be afraid of losing," he said.
"I never give up on a game until the referee has blown the final whistle and nor do my players. Everything can change in football in a matter of seconds. As a team, we are used to coming from behind."
He also paid tribute to the "magnificent" fans who kept up their noisy support for their team throughout the match.
In a sign of the strong Galatasaray support for Terim, facing disciplinary action after arguing with a referee in a league game at the weekend, many fans donned masks bearing his face at the Turk Telekom Arena on Tuesday.
This year, Terim has strengthened his side with the eye-catching additions of Drogba, last season's Champions League hero for Chelsea, and Sneijder, and those signings paid dividends with two classy goals in as many breathtaking minutes.
Madrid were rattled but managed to recompose themselves, and Cristiano Ronaldo scored his second goal of the match on the final whistle as Galatasaray's campaign ended with a 3-2 win that left the raucous Galatasaray fans bursting with pride.
"The farewell of a lion," said headlines in Hurriyet and Milliyet newspapers, alluding to Galatasaray's nickname.
"They made Real tremble," the Haberturk daily said. "Thank you Galatasaray," the Sabah newspaper enthused.
Madrid coach Jose Mourinho even acknowledged the home side's fighting spirit by paying a visit their changing room after the match to congratulate the Galatasaray players.
The Spanish giants advanced to the last four 5-3 on aggregate with the scoreline in the two legs identical to those in a Champions League quarter-final fixture between the sides in 2001.
It was a result that left Terim with a feeling of justification in his footballing philosophy.
"When I came here I said there would be a Galatasaray that everybody could be proud of, whether they win or lose. I achieved that and I'm happy about that," he said.
(Editing by John O'Brien)