Selcuk Inan’s equaliser spared Galatasaray’s blushes and secured their spot in the knockout stages of the Europa League following a 1-1 draw with Astana at the Turk Telekom Arena.
With both sides already eliminated from the Champions League, the Turkish Super Lig side snatched the point they needed to extend their European campaign into the second half of the season, but only after being given a major scare.
Mustafa Denizli’s men looked set to miss out on third place in Group C when Patrick Twumasi fired Astana in front just after the hour as he was left unmarked at the far post to steer home Dmitri Shomko’s deep cross.
The hosts responded within two minutes, however, as Selcuk volleyed into an empty net. The skipper was initially involved in a neat one-two with Lukas Podolski, before pouncing to level after Burak Yilmaz’s effort was blocked by Nenad Eric.
After seeing Benfica and Atletico Madrid dominate and progress from Group C, it was a straight battle for third.
Astana – one of only three sides heading into the final round of matches yet to record a victory in this season’s group stages – went close to breaking the deadlock after 15 minutes.
Twumasi received the ball on the right and cut inside onto his left foot, before seeing his drilled effort from the edge of the penalty area crash against the post.
The hosts then saw a great chance go begging at the other end as Sabri Sarioglu’s deep cross caught out the Astana defence, but Yasin Oztekin could only lift the ball over the crossbar.
Oztekin almost made amends, however, as the first half drew to a close.
Galatasaray broke from defending a corner and the winger worked space for the shot, but Eric sprung across brilliantly to his right to tip it wide of the post.
Oztekin was involved again on the stroke of half-time with a neat flick for Burak to run onto, but the striker struck the outside of the post after sliding the ball past the Astana goalkeeper.
The home crowd were left stunned after 62 minutes as Twumasi was able to ghost in at the far post to stroke home a deep cross into the area from Shomko.
However, Denizli’s side levelled almost immediately when Selcuk volleyed home the decisive equaliser following some neat link-up play down the right.
Despite Sarioglu almost scoring a bizarre own goal with 20 minutes remaining, Galatasaray held on to secure their place in the last 32 of the Europa League.