After a restful weekend, FC Basel 1893 are eager to avoid conceding a goal in the home leg of their UEFA Cup quarter-final against Middlesbrough FC.
Basel have had an extra few days of rest after Sunday's Swiss league match against Neuchâtel Xamax FC was postponed due to snow. Argentinian defender César Carignano has still not recovered from a knee injury and surgery to remove his appendix, while defender Murat Yakin is nursing a thigh problem. However, coach Christian Gross has been unable to call on either for some time.
The former Tottenham Hotspur FC manager is making a clean sheet a priority ahead of his return to England. "If we can go to Middlesbrough without having conceded a goal, that would improve our chances enormously," he said. "I'm looking forward to both games - Middlesbrough are extremely attractive opponents for our fans." The supporters are certainly looking forward to the matches, and with some optimism according to a recent poll on the club's website. Asked whether Basel would reach the semi-finals, 83 per cent of more than 7,000 fans polled said the Swiss side would prevail.
Middlesbrough, meanwhile, have had cause for pessimism with captain Gareth Southgate being omitted from the Switzerland-bound party due to an ankle problem. That, coupled with the suspensions of central midfielders George Boateng and Lee Cattermole, denies them three first-choice players on the night. Manager Steve McClaren put a brave face on it, saying: "Gareth, Lee and George are all big players for us and we are bound to miss them but it gives other players the opportunity to step forward and make sure the others aren't missed too much. We've had to cope without players all season."
Like Gross, Sir Alex Ferguson's former assistant at Manchester United FC said that a shutout was paramount in the first leg. "An away goal becomes vital, but against [AS] Roma I thought the most important thing was not conceding in the first leg," said McClaren. "Basel are very strong at home and capable of scoring goals and it's up to us to take the game to them. The key is to make sure the tie is alive for the second leg at the Riverside. The first game is very cagey, cat and mouse. So far the first leg has been very important to us and we hope for the same tomorrow."
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