Even after their draw 2-2 in Ukraine last week, few believed FC Thun would eliminate seasoned UEFA Champions League veterans FC Dynamo Kyiv. But at the Stade de Suisse Wankdorf last night the Swiss side proved the critics wrong once again.
Journalists were kept waiting by coach Urs Schönenberger after his side's 1-0 victory had earned a place in the third qualifying round. Thun now face Malmö FF for a place in the group stage, but that is next week. Last night Schönenberger was enjoying the moment, breathing in the congratulations, celebrating with fans and his players. "We played a superb game," Schönenberger said after eventually pulling himself away. "We had patience, waited for our chances and played in a very disciplined manner."
Thun were paid little attention when the draw was made. Dynamo, who had defeated AS Roma and Bayer 04 Leverkusen and drawn with Real Madrid CF in the group stage last season, were considered far too strong. Thun’s European pedigree amounted to nothing more than two UEFA Intertoto Cup campaigns. But Schönenberger, also a battler as a player, thought otherwise. "We knew we needed two outstanding games to prevail," he said. "But we had to work hard during our preparations and we knew we could do it."
The players, coach and staff were rewarded for their efforts, and so too were the fans. Almost 26,000 packed into the Stade de Suisse, and their vociferous support helped create a small piece of history at the newly-built stadium. "We were almost obliged to qualify for the next round with this support," long-time captain Andres Gerber said. "It was unbelievable."
It was not only the supporters of the team from the beautiful city in the Bernese Oberland cheering for Thun last night, all of Switzerland were behind them. Thun have established themselves at the top table of Swiss football after an astonishing rise from the lower leagues. Their assent has been compared to that of AC Chievo Verona in Italy, and they have won support every step of the way.
The success story began in 2002 with promotion to the top flight. Since then Thun have exceeded expectations every year. Led by coach Hanspeter Latour, Thun developed an excellent scouting system, investing in youth as well as players who had not fulfilled their potential elsewhere. Milaim Rama has much to thank Thun for. Rama was playing for a seventh division side before Latour set him on a path that would eventually lead to the national team.
When Latour left for Grasshopper-Club in December, Thun's hopes of sustaining their success were thought to have gone with him. Under Schönenberger, however, Thun have continued to excel and confound, finishing second in the Super League after pushing FC Basel 1893 for the title for much of last season.
A number of key players left the club earlier this summer and again warnings were sounded that the Thun miracle was over. Last night proved them unfounded once more. Thun are looking forward not back. As Gerber pointed out: "Anyone who can eliminate Dynamo Kyiv, certainly has a good chance against Malmö. Even if we lose now we still have the UEFA Cup." No one will write off Thun again.
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