Six months after his first UEFA Europa League match as FC Basel 1893 coach resulted in a 2-1 defeat by Videoton FC which left them struggling in Group G, Murat Yakin leads the Swiss team into a semi-final against the European champions requiring one last push in their bid to reach Amsterdam.
Basel have not looked back since that reverse in Hungary on matchday three, subsequently ending the challenges of a vibrant FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in the round of 32, of 2008 winners FC Zenit St Petersburg and, on penalties in the last eight, of fancied Tottenham Hotspur FC.
Now, with Chelsea FC standing between the first-time semi-finalists and a place in the showpiece itself, Yakin is not about to countenance letting the historic opportunity slip through his grasp. "We are very close to the final," the 38-year-old said.
"I started this campaign at Videoton when we were last in the group. I have tried to present my vision to the team, one I hoped could lead the way to the final in Amsterdam, and now we are so close that we can reach it in two games."
Basel's form at St. Jakob-Park, where they are unbeaten in six outings since the beginning of the group stage, has the been the bedrock of their success. "We have played some good matches at home, which we deserved to win," said Yakin, who replaced Heiko Vogel on 15 October. "They served as a good start for the return leg. Now we need two very good performances, or one very good one and one average, to make it to the final – we believe we can do it."
Chelsea, in contrast, have lost four of their last five European away games, succumbing in Bucharest and Kazan since parachuting into this competition from the UEFA Champions League, and manager Rafael Benítez does not expect things to get any easier in northern Switzerland.
"We have a tough game ahead," he said. "We have played good teams in the Europa League, but obviously Basel are in the semi-finals and deserve to be here. They have been working very hard, are playing well, are well organised, press well and are good on the counterattack."
In Fernando Torres, though, Chelsea have a player who has shown a liking for the UEFA Europa League, scoring four goals in his last three appearances. Having helped the west Londoners conquer Europe last term, the Spain striker has designs on lifting another piece of continental silverware.
"We won the Champions League last year and we want to win the Europa League this season," he said. "We have the team that can win it. I am getting better, the team is getting better. The season is almost over and we want to reach our targets."
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