FC Basel 1893 are preparing for what may be their "most important match of the season" – when they can beat Vitória SC to return to the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time since 2003.
All or nothing
The two sides drew 0-0 in the third qualifying round first leg in Guimaraes on 13 August and Basel are determined to make home advantage tell in Wednesday's return at St. Jakob-Park. "This may be the most important match of our season," said midfielder Ivan Ergić, who hopes to overcome a bruised right ankle to play. "We all know what it means to be in the Champions League."
Basel lead the Swiss Super League after seven matches and Benjamin Huggel, who scored in Saturday's 4-3 victory over Neuchâtel Xamax FC, wants to take that eye-catching form into Europe. "This is a huge opportunity for us," he said. "The Champions League is the highest stage in European club football and it would be great to be part of it." However, coach Christian Gross anticipates a tough encounter and, after conceding three goals at the weekend, is wary of Vitória's attacking threat. "We can't just go forward without thinking how technically gifted they are," he said. "We have to be brave, show confidence at all times and stay focused."
While a 1-0 win would be enough for the Swiss champions, a score draw would take Guimarães, third in last season's Portuguese Liga, into the group stage for the first time. This second leg is an occasion Manuel Cajuda's men are ready to rise to. "We know the importance of this match," the coach said. "It is a unique opportunity to make history and I have felt my players' confidence. I too am very confident in this team. It will be a different game from the first leg, because somebody has to score. I am expecting a different opponent as well, one more determined to keep the ball. It could be harder for us, yet it could also suit us."
Of Basel's potential defensive frailties, Cajuda added: "We know Basel shipped three goals in their last game but they have been scoring a lot too. I hope it's a good sign for Vitória anyway." Guimarães' cause is helped by the news that striker Douglas Oliveira should be available after shaking off a groin complaint. Arnolin Gregory is also expected to play despite taking a knock in the 1-1 season-opening draw with Vitória FC on Friday, but Nuno Assis (groin) and Sereno (knee) miss out.
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