Basle coach Christian Gross pointed to his side’s last venture into the Champions League group stage as a cause for optimism ahead of the opening game of this season’s campaign against Shakhtar Donetsk.
Gross was in charge for the first match of the 2002-03 competition when a 2-0 win against Spartak Moscow at St. Jakob-Park sparked a surprise run to the last 16.
“That Spartak game gives me hope. We have to be clever and show a lot of courage as those will be the key factors in Tuesday’s match,” said the Gross. “We mustn’t get carried away and we have to be realistic. Shakhtar are under pressure so that should give us some opportunities which hopefully we can exploit.”
Two survivors of Basel’s adventure six years ago, Benjamin Huggel and Scott Chipperfield, should start tonight, although a third, Ivan Ergic, misses out after picking up a foot injury on international duty with Serbia last week. Full-back Behrang Safari is suspended, while Eren Derdiyok may return up front.
“It will need six really good performances to get any points at all,” said Gross, whose side will also take on Barcelona and Sporting in the group. “It will be difficult. The pace of the games is a lot quicker, there’s less space to work in, and the overall quality is much higher than in the Swiss league. Even so, we are never without chances of success, even if the chances are small.”
Shakhtar coach, Mircea Lucescu, whose side have won just one of their seven Ukrainian Premier League fixtures this season, is expected to employ an all-Brazilian attack led by top scorer Brandao for what he believes will be a crucial game.
“It’s a Champions League game and that’s completely different from a league match,” said Lucescu. “The important thing here is to play to win the three points. The team that wins on Tuesday has a great chance of going through.”
Razvan Rat and Dmytro Chygrynskiy are likely to return to the back-four after month-long injury lay-offs, as Shakhtar look to get through to the knockout rounds for the first time in five attempts.
“Basle are very strong mentally, they are very well-organised and very disciplined tactically, and they run a lot,” Lucescu added. “They’re also very good on set-pieces. We know all that, but we also know they have some weaknesses.”