By Pavle Gognidze and Kadira Malkoc
FC Basel can take a significant step towards becoming the first Swiss team in UEFA Champions League history to reach the second group stage when they meet FC Spartak Moskva on Tuesday.
Only pride left
Victory for Basel at what will be a freezing Dinamo stadium in the Russian capital will see them leapfrog Liverpool FC into second place in Group B, and leave them needing just a draw from a Matchday Six visit by their English rivals. Valencia CF have already clinched first place, while eliminated Spartak, with four defeats from four, have only pride and a place in the UEFA Cup to play for.
This fixture was delayed a week after last month's hostage crisis in a Moscow theatre. Spartak will have a tough task against a Basel team which earned a 2-0 victory against them on Matchday One and prepared for the tie with a 5-3 domestic victory against FC Zürich last Friday.
Basel coach Christian Gross has been hampered by injuries and could be without influential Argentinian striker Christian Giménez, who faces a late fitness test. Cameroonian Herve Tum deputised for Giménez against Zürich but George Koumantarakis is also in the frame.
Mario Cantaluppi has fully recovered from a knee injury and should play, although midfield colleagues Nenad Savic and Scott Chipperfield are unlikely to figure. Gross is refusing to allow such problems trouble him, especially as Basel can lose and still qualify with a final day win. "
With a victory in Moscow, we could really pressure Liverpool at home," he said.
Standing in their way are Spartak, yet to earn a point in the Champions League this season, and who go into the game without the injured Yegor Titov and Dmytro Parfionov. However, Vladimir Beschastnykh, who has been deputising for Titov as captain and has dropped back to central midfield, believes his team will be firing on all cylinders. "We have our backs against the wall, and this will not be just another game," he said.
Plenty to prove
His coach, Oleg Romantsev, also admitted Spartak can only hope to restore pride. "We are in a situation where we have lost all but our honour," he said. "We need to prove to our fans, to ourselves, and to everybody out there that we can play football." Romantsev will put his faith in youth with Alexander Sonin and Alexander Danishevskiy expected to start up front.
Spartak, who have not played since a 3-0 away victory against SC Rotor Volgograd on 26 October, know Europe offers their last chance for glory this season. To qualify for the UEFA Cup, Spartak will need to beat Basel and then sign off with a Matchday Six victory in Spain against Valencia.
On paper it seems an impossible mission but, after 15 matches without a win in Europe, a positive result on a frozen night against Basel would at least go some way to warming the Spartak support.
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