By Mark Gleeson
Dec 11 (Reuters) - Wesley Sneijder ended a year of contrasting fortunes by scoring the winning goal against Juventus on Wednesday that propelled Galatasaray into the Champions League knockout stages.
Six months ago Sneijder's career was at a crossroads after he was stripped of the captaincy of the Dutch national team, then left out of the side because of a lack of fitness.
His 85th-minute goal is a payback for Galatasaray who paid a reported 10 million euros ($13.8 million) for the Inter Milan midfielder in January. Sneijder admitted recently that the Turkish champions had yet to see the best of him.
The 29-year-old's winner in the snow-delayed Group B tie allowed Galatasaray to progress to the knockout phase at the expense of the Italian champions.
"That goal is very important for me but even more important for the club," said Sneijder, who started his career at Ajax Amsterdam before moving to Real Madrid. "It's great, we fought really hard and deserved to win."
In his first 15 games at Galatasaray, where he arrived to a great reception from supporters, Sneijder was substituted 12 times. He scored only three goals and delivered just one assist last season after his move from Inter, where he had fallen out of favour after refusing to take a pay cut.
"The expectation at Galatasaray was huge but, if I'm honest, I did not live up to it," he said in a recent interview. Sneijder has also had to deal with a litany of injuries that sidelined him in each of the last four seasons.
His confidence was battered when Louis van Gaal took away the captain's armband in June and handed it to Robin van Persie, and this was followed by Sneijder's omission in August for the Netherlands' friendly against Portugal.
The Dutch coach said at the time: "I'm only selecting Sneijder when he is completely fit. He won't be helped by my calling him up now, it's better he stays at the club and continues training."
But, ironically, injury to others propelled Sneijder back into the Dutch side sooner than expected. He helped his country secure World Cup qualification, reasserting his influence and value to his country, just as he has now done with his club.
"This goal, this victory will give me a lot of strength," Sneijder said after Wednesday's narrow win, before stressing that his future lay in Turkey.
Media reports had linked him with a possible move to Manchester United in the January transfer window.
"I am happy here. I have heard the rumours too, but I know as much about it as you," he told Dutch radio.
"It's a recurring ritual - when the transfer market opens, I am immediately linked with all sorts of clubs." (Editing by Robert Woodward)