By Pavle Gognidze
FC Basel are the first Swiss club to reach the second group stage of the UEFA Champions League and their first encounter in these uncharted waters comes against an injury-ravaged Manchester United FC on Tuesday night in Group D.
Basel have exceeded all expectations and will hope to continue their excellent form against British clubs this season. They eliminated Scottish champions Celtic FC at the qualifying stage before finishing above Liverpool FC in the first group stage. Little wonder coach Christian Gross feels his team are "ready to take on strong opposition".
Yakin expected to be fit
Gross should be able call on all his key players with the exception of midfield player Antonio Esposito and striker George Koumantarakis. Captain Marat Yakin and Ivan Ergic, who scored twice again Valencia CF on Matchday 5, are expected to shrug off knocks to play.
To play against Manchester United successfully, we must believe in ourselves," Gross said. He also promised attacking football at St Jakob stadium. "We will play an offensive game, we will try to control possession, but we also must not forget about defence and we must not lose concentration the way we did against Liverpool," the coach said, referring to Liverpool’s comeback from three goals behind.
Weakened by injuries
Gross admitted he was putting some hope in United being weakened by injuries. "They have a lot of injuries and will probably field a new-look defence, which gives us a shot," he said. Indeed, United, who beat Newcastle United FC 5-3 in the Premiership on Saturday, are missing a string of leading players, with David Beckham, Roy Keane, Rio Ferdinand, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville and Laurent Blanc all sidelined.
John O'Shea and Wes Brown are likely to form a youthful partnership in defence and Ferguson has faith in them. "Experience is what they do not have at this level but they do have ability and this is what we are going to rely on," he said.
Praise for Basel
Ferguson also paid respect to Basel. "I think they are a very good team with some great attackers," he said. "It is not going to be an easy game for us but it is not going to be easy for Basel either."
The United manager also dismissed the view that his team are in crisis this season. United are fifth in the Premiership, six points behind leaders Arsenal FC. "We are doing the best we can under the current circumstances," he said. "
Out of 20 performances this season, we have possibly had two bad ones."
O'Shea said his team would have to adapt to the speed of the match. "The pace here will be a little slower for us because of how frantic the Premiership is," he said. "We are away from home so we won't get the ball a lot therefore we have to concentrate." Indeed they will, as Celtic and Liverpool know to their considerable cost.
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