When Alexander Frei moved back to home-town club FC Basel 1893 from Borussia Dortmund in summer 2009, some viewed the transfer as a step down for the Switzerland forward. However, after helping his side to a famous UEFA Champions League victory with the opening goal in Tuesday's 3-1 win at AS Roma, the 31-year-old is proving that the lesser lights of European football can mix it with the brightest.
Frei gave Basel the lead at the Stadio Olimpico with a superb 12th-minute strike and although Marco Borriello equalised within ten minutes, goals at the end of each half from Samuel Inkoom and Cabral earned the visitors a memorable success – their first in the competition since the 2002/03 season, against Juventus.
"Every game in the Champions League is special and of course to score was an incredible feeling," Frei told UEFA.com, after registering his 22nd goal in 37 UEFA club competition matches. "Playing in the Champions League was the reason I came back to Basel. After losing our first two games Rome was a difficult place to come, but we came through with a win after an unbelievable first-half display."
Team-mate Benjamin Huggel was quick to pay tribute to the UEFA.com man of the match. "Frei is a great striker," the midfielder said. "He has a nose for goal and always knows where to run in the box. He won us a lot of free-kicks today and he's very important for us."
Two opening Group E defeats had left Thorsten Fink's men bottom of the section with no points, but they have propelled themselves into second place following their Roman conquest, though Frei conceded: "We lost our way in the first 20 minutes of the second half, when Roma put us under a lot of pressure, but towards the end of the match we managed to respond although I have to admit we were a bit lucky."
Francesco Totti twice came close for the Giallorossi and Rodrigo Taddei hit a post, but Basel rode out the storm before creating more chances to put the match beyond Roma – the last of which Cabral converted in added time. As they had managed on home soil in the UEFA Europa League group stage last season, Basel once again upset their Serie A rivals.
"We had the right answers," said Frei. "For us, it was very important to clinch our first victory in the Champions League. We can now take every match on a game-by-game basis and see where we stand at the end."
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