uefa.com's mid-term report finds Swiss history-makers FC Basel defying the odds in the UEFA Champions League.
With the UEFA Champions League on its winter break, uefa.com will publish mid-term reports on the 16 remaining sides in the competition every day until 31 December. Today we look at one of the shock qualifiers for the second group stage, and the first Swiss side to ever achieve that honour, FC Basel.
The story so far
When this seasons's Champions League kicked off, Swiss side FC Basel were widely considered rank outsiders in Group B, which also contained Spanish champions Valencia CF and English giants Liverpool FC. However, battling performances, allied to an open, attacking style that took many people by surprise, meant that Christian Gross guided his team to an unlikely qualification. The campaign began promising for Basel, who defeated the fourth side in the group, FC Spartak Moskva, 2-0 in Switzerland. Julio Hernán Rossi's strike then earned his side an unlikely draw at Liverpool and, although they suffered a 6-2 defeat in Spain at the hands of Valencia, they acquitted themselves well and made their point with a 2-2 draw at home to the Spanish side in the following game. A crucial 2-0 win in Moscow, coupled with Liverpool's slip-ups, meant that Basel only needed a draw in Switzerland in the final match of the group against their English rivals to guarantee progress. Within the opening 30 minutes the hosts raced into a three-goal lead and, despite a second-half recovery from Liverpool, they held on to secure a 3-3 draw and the priceless point. The second group stage began equally well, as Christian Giménez opened the scoring against Manchester United FC inside a minute, but the English side scored three goals in six minutes to secure a 3-1 win, before Juventus FC inflicted a 4-0 defeat in Turin on Matchday Eight. However, Basel played well enough, and created enough chances, to suggest that all is not lost, and Gross will hope his side can do themselves justice in their four remaining group games.
Basel do not possess world-class stars or a big budget, and Gross knows that his side's strength lies in unity and motivation, with Basel enjoying particular success at home. The Yakin brothers add considerable talent to this side, with Marat's experience and influence at centre-back crucial, while Hakan is the inspiration at the heart of most attacks. Argentinian strikers Rossi and Giménez are also crucial to the side, and are a potent partnership, having scored eleven goals since the Champions League second qualifying round.
Their spirit may be excellent, but Basel have lacked class in a number of games. A comparatively small club, the Swiss side have a miniscule budget compared to their European rivals, and injuries to key players have stretched the squad's resources to the limit, with Gross having to rely on a small number of players in a demanding domestic and European schedule.
Key man - Hakan Yakin
In such an attack-orientated side, massive responsibility rests on the shoulders of Hakan Yakin. An inspirational playmaker, he is the fulcrum of the Basel side, and his exceptional vision and perceptive passing adds flair and creativity to the team.
Best moment so far
The 3-3 draw with Liverpool which enabled Basel to progress to the second group stage. Having emphasised their attacking prowess by taking a three-goal lead in the first half, Basel then proved their resilience in the second period as the English side threw everything forward as they sought to stay in the competition, but Basel were equal to the task and held on.