By Kadira Malkoc
Scottish champions Celtic FC will feel history is on their side when they face Swiss double winners FC Basel at Parkhead tonight in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round.
Celtic, who were the first British winners of the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1967, played Basel for the first time in the 1963 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and won 10-1 on aggregate. The two teams then met again in Europe in 1969 and 1973, with the Scots running out victors on both occasions.
The Swiss game has had to cope with some serious financial problems over recent seasons, a situation which has meant the best young players have been forced to look abroad to further their careers. But things have started to look up for the Swiss, with their national team winning the UEFA European Under-17 Championship and reaching the semi-finals of the U21 tournament. Basel will be looking to continue that improvement.
Basel will travel to Glasgow without injured players Benjamin Huggel and Scott Chipperfield, while Hervé Tum is doubtful with a thigh injury. Captain Murat Yakin is fit to play after missing the 4-0 win over FC Zürich at the weekend, Marco Zwyssig is also available again and the team will look to striker Hakan Yakin to continue his excellent form.
Basel are in confident mood after an impressive start to the season. Christian Gross's side are unbeaten after seven matches in Nationalliga A and were comfortable winners over Slovakian side MŠK Zilina in their last qualifying round. They will be looking to become only the second Swiss club after Grasshopper-Club in 1996/97 to enter the Champions League group phase.
Celtic will certainly be wary of the Swiss after being eliminated from the UEFA Cup in 1998 by FC Zürich. Yet that was before the reign of manager Martin O'Neill. His team warmed up for the encounter with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Aberdeen FC, a result which makes them the early pacesetters in the Scottish Premier League.
The Glaswegians reached the Champions League group stage last year after knocking out AFC Ajax in the qualifiers. They enjoyed excellent home wins over FC Porto, Rosenborg BK and Juventus FC, but their failure to win any of their away ties will provide some encouragement for Basel.
'We were disappointed'
"We will have to improve their away form if we are to make an impact in this season's Champions League," said striker Chris Sutton. "Last season our record away from home in Europe wasn't good, other than the win in Amsterdam in the qualifiers. Looking at it now, we were disappointed not to be playing in the tournament longer and we want to put that right. The Champions League is where every player wants to play and we're no different.
'It will be tough'
"Basel are a good side, they've won the Swiss league and come through a tough qualifier. It's going to be tough with the first game at home and I think we've got to play as freely as we know we can play."
Celtic midfield player Alan Thompson misses the match because of ankle ligament damage. Winger Didier Agathe has recovered from a tight hamstring but may not be risked, while striker John Hartson has been passed fit to play.
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