FC Basel 1893's bid to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage for the third time remains on course after Valentin Stocker's 54th-minute header put them in pole position of their UEFA Champions League play-off with FC Sheriff.
The visitors, aiming to make the group stage for the first time in ten successive attempts, made life tough for the Swiss titleholders but the deadlock was broken during a strong Basel spell early in the second half. Sheriff had Aleksandr Erokhin sent off late on but goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov saved a last-minute Benjamin Huggel penalty to keep his side in the tie.
Alexander Frei thought he had given Basel the lead on 11 minutes when he applied a neat finish to Behrang Safari's cross but he was offside. At the other end Vladimir Volkov shot just wide but these were rare openings in rainy Basel, the Sheriff midfield holding firm despite missing Baco Nikolić and Fred through suspension. Erokhin dragged an effort past the far post after being set up by a clever Benjamin Balima ball and it was not until the stroke of half-time that Frei forced Stoyanov into his first real save with a curling free-kick.
Florent Rouamba tested home goalkeeper Franco Costanzo at the start of the second period but Basel responded with their best spell of the match. Only a timely interception denied Jacques Zoua a chance in front of goal following Xherdan Shaqiri's cross and from the resultant Frei corner, Huggel headed on to the post. The deadlock was soon broken, though, Stocker heading in unmarked from a looped Shaqiri centre.
Immediately the Moldovan champions sought to level and Costanzo had to advance to deny Balima. Substitute Marko Djurović twice headed over from close range and struck a shot against the post. That latter scare seemed to awaken Basel and Frei's effort forced a fine Stoyanov save. Erokhin came close with a near-post header following a corner but with four minutes left he received a second booking for dissent.
It looked like it would get worse for Sheriff when Stoyanov brought down substitute Federico Almerares in the box but the goalkeeper made amends by diving to stop Huggel's penalty. Perhaps just as well, since Sheriff will be missing Erokhin, Vladimir Branković and Miral Samardžić through suspension on Tuesday.
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