By Mark Chaplin
Both FC Basel and RC Deportivo La Coruña go into Wednesday's UEFA Champions League Group D showdown knowing that defeat will surely end their dreams of progress in European football's premier competition.
The two sides meet at Basel's Saint Jakob Park desperate for success after each endured disappointing starts to the second group stage. Basel, a surprise package in the first phase, have seen their fairytale adventure come to an abrupt halt as they conceded a total of seven goals to Manchester United FC and Juventus FC in losing their first two matches.
Meanwhile, Deportivo have only one point to show for their opening Group D encounters, a 2-2 draw at home to Juventus followed by a 2-0 away setback against United in December.
'Nothing to lose'
We know that the first few minutes could be decisive," said Basel coach Christian Gross, whose side have a habit of beginning home matches strongly, scoring early goals against both United and Liverpool FC. "We have nothing to lose against a team that I think is among the top ten in Europe at the moment."
"Deportivo are a model of efficiency, a technically above-average team who like to keep possession and play quickly on the counter," Gross said. "They have great experience and the team is packed with personalities. Both sides know the importance of the match, and we have to be ready."
Deportivo coach Javier Irureta is aware that his men must be alert from the kick-off in the face of Basel's early threat. "They're a very competitive team and especially dangerous at home," he said. "
We have to get the three points, otherwise the top two teams in the group will pull away from us."
The two sides may have interesting physical challenges to overcome in the match, with the Swiss league currently in its winter break, meaning the Basel players could have lost some of their sharpness. "I think that physically we won't have a problem, the big issue will be if we are mentally ready. There is a big difference between friendly matches and a top game," added Gross, who has recently taken his side to training camps in the Swiss mountains and Turkey.
Meanwhile, the sub-zero temperatures will present a stiff test for the Spanish visitors. "The atmosphere will be great, but the biggest problem for us will be the cold," admitted Deportivo's prolific Dutch striker Roy Makaay, who scored his 16th league goal of the season in the weekend win against Real Valladolid to keep his side in title contention.
Deportivo go into the game with several players, including Fran González, Víctor Sánchez and César Martín, ruled out through injury, while goalkeeper José Francisco Molina has only recently returned to training after undergoing treatment for testicular cancer. However, influential midfield player Juan Valerón, who has not played for two months, is back in contention, while Basel are themselves without injured Swiss international Antonio Espositio and midfield player Ivan Ergic, whose excellent form was a key reason for his side's qualification from the first group stage.
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