The French press are casting envious glances over the border to nearby Switzerland today after FC Basel's thrilling march into the second group stage of the UEFA Champions League compounded the misery of the elimination of the Gallic challenge.
'France is gone'
For the first time since the format was introduced, France will not have a club in the second group stage, leaving Aujourd'hui to reflect sombrely: "France is gone". RC Lens saw their faint hopes of progress dashed by RC Deportivo La Coruña's 2-1 victory at AC Milan, though finishing ahead of FC Bayern München merited a place in the UEFA Cup and a "compensation award", according to the club's local newspaper La Voix du Nord.
There is a fine margin between success and failure, and all could have been so different for Olympique Lyonnais had striker Sonny Anderson not scuffed a header when beautifully positioned to score the winning goal at Rosenborg BK on Tuesday. Le Progrès de Lyon felt Lyon failed to "take the expected step forward" after encouraging earlier results in Group D, while an editorial in sports daily L'Equipe was far more scathing: "Fortunately French clubs have the [UEFA] Intertoto Cup in which to shine," it said.
In contrast, Swiss newspapers revelled in the glory of Basel's 3-3 draw with Liverpool FC which saw the club become the first from the Alpine country to qualify for the second group stage. The Zürich-based Tages-Anzeiger proclaimed: "Just one word: unbelievable. A football match cannot be any crazier, more dramatic or nerve-wracking...and there was never one like this before in Switzerland."
Basler Zeitung were equally quick to leap on the bandwagon, saying: "FC Basel were simply sensational again. The unthinkable has become reality. Basel achieved what was considered as utopic only a short time ago." The Neue Zürcher Zeitung purred over the display: "Against Liverpool, FCB produced perhaps the best performance of a Swiss team at international level."
Boon for football
If Basel's success is seen as a boon for football in Switzerland as a whole, then Russian daily Sport Express has called on its populace to perceive FC Lokomotiv Moskva's progress in a similar light. Under the headline "Bravo Loko!" the paper's lead article reads: "The most important thing is that we stay in the Champions League! 'We' means not only Loko: 'We' means the whole of Russia."
Yet the most amazing passage on Matchday Six was achieved by Newcastle United FC, Sir Bobby Robson's side becoming the first team to qualify after losing their opening three matches. The Daily Mirror hailed Craig Bellamy as "Bobby's little bellter" after the Welshman secured a 3-2 victory at Feyenoord with a last-minute winner. The Guardian described the match as "a night of seriously dramatic entertainment in a great stadium pulsing with excitement".
'Violating a mosque'
Internazionale FC's 2-1 away defeat of AFC Ajax was compared to "violating a mosque" by Gazzetta dello Sport, with Hernán Crespo, scorer of the opening goal, lauded as the "King of Amsterdam". Juventus FC may have been "cruel" and "Milan on holiday" but they qualified along with Inter and AS Roma to ensure a clean sweep for Italian clubs.
The media in Spain beat a similar drum. "All the Spanish teams have qualified," enthused Marca. "The second round will again have Spanish colour." England, too, could have been savouring a clean sweep of qualified teams were it not for Liverpool's exit, a "failing which means [they] will now forgo some £10m [€15.7m] of expected income from the tournament", according to the Guardian.
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