Zurich held their nerve to clinch another Swiss Super League title.
By Nick Bidwell
With Zurich taking the Super League spoils for the third time in four years, the country’s financial focal point can now safely be regarded as its footballing capital as well.
FCZ looked to be wobbling after they lost 3-1 at home to challengers Basle a fortnight from the end of the season – a result which left the latter only a point behind. But just as the momentum appeared to be changing sides, it was Zurich who held their nerve to clinch the championship seven days later with a 1-0 win at Bellinzona, an Alexandre Alphonse header securing the title as Basle imploded and lost 4-1 at Grasshopper.
Zurich, who finished the season a half-dozen points ahead of runners-up Young Boys of Berne and seven ahead of Basle, were wholly deserving champions. They were the most consistent, the most hungry and committed, the most solid defensively and could always rely on the goalscoring nous of the “Golden Triangle” formed by attacking midfielder Almen Abdi and French spearheads Alphonse and the extensively-tattooed giant Eric Hassli.
Responsible for 49 of the team’s 80 goals, the trio made sure the absence of Tunisia playmaker/striker Yassine Chikhaoui, who was sidelined for most of the campaign with knee trouble, was hardly noticed.
All credit to the eye for talent of FCZ general manager Fredy Bickel and the coaching of the ever-voluble Bernard Challandes. When Zurich appointed the former Switzerland Under-21 boss two years ago, many thought it was a mistake to bring in a man primarily known for his youth-development work and who had never led a pro team to silverware.
No one is complaining now though. A wonderful motivator, shrewd in his tactical choices and an advocate of entertaining football, the 57-year-old Challandes finally had his moment in the sun and for his next trick he will be aiming to plot a victorious path through Zurich’s two Champions League qualifying games.
Pipped to second place by an attack-conscious Young Boys, for who Ivory Coast forward Seydou Doumbia was the league’s top scorer with 20 goals, Basle were the most obvious losers of the season.
Not surprising for someone in his 10th year in charge, coach Christian Gross found it increasingly difficult to rally his charges and further hindered his team’s title push by too often showing excessive caution. Despite leading Basle to four Swiss Leagues, as many domestic Cups, and the second phase of the Champions League in 2002-03, his shelf life was clearly up and he was sacked at the end of the season, being replaced by ex-Bayern Munich midfielder Thorsten Fink.
The country’s oldest outfit, St Gallen, won the Challenge League at a canter to regain their top-flight status a year after relegation, while the Liechtenstein-based Vaduz never seemed capable of avoiding the drop.
In the play-offs, which pitted Luzern (who finished ninth in the top flight) against Lugano (the runners-up in the Challenge League), the former prevailed 5-1 on aggregate to remain
an elite club.
Sion maintained their perfect Cup Final record, coming from two down to beat Young Boys 3-2, the winner netted by Guilherme Afonso two minutes from time. It was the 11th time Sion have won the trophy.