"That game showed that anything can happen in football and that you have to believe you can win for every second," beamed FC Basel 1893 coach Murat Yakin after his ten-man side beat FC Salzburg 2-1 in Austria – and on aggregate – to reach the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals. "Congratulations and compliments to this great team."
However, while the 39-year-old was happy to share the credit, he was receiving plenty of praise himself, with Swiss fans delighted the defending champions and Super League leaders were in with a chance of matching their feat of last season – when they reached the semi-finals, falling to eventual winners Chelsea FC. Although crowd trouble marred their victory in Salzburg, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported with pride that Yakin's charges had "knocked Salzburg out of the Europa League like a team full of hard-boiled desperados".
A 1-0 Swiss Cup success at home to FC Luzern on Wednesday leaves Basel on course to win a treble, a situation which perhaps contributes to their young coach being linked with moves to SS Lazio, Hannover 96 and Tottenham Hotspur FC. Since replacing Heiko Vogel in October 2012, he has certainly raised the temperature at the club, and even if they did not get through the UEFA Champions League group stage this term, two victories over Chelsea showed their class.
Yakin's reputation as a player was never in doubt. Capped 49 times, the Basel-born centre-back lifted five domestic titles – two with Grasshopper Club, three at Basel – and played abroad for VfB Stuttgart, Fenerbahçe SK and 1. FC Kaiserslautern. His coaching credentials may yet reach a similar level, with Yakin working his way up gradually, gaining promotion to the top flight with FC Thun and earning a runners-up finish with Luzern in 2011/12 before rejoining Basel.
"Nothing surprises me any more in football," he said upon returning to St. Jakob-Park in October 2012. "It is a great task which I am taking on. I know what kind of responsibility goes with it. I am delighted to have the chance to work here." If a somewhat workmanlike style of play did not initially endear him to all Basel fans, success in Europe helped win them over, with the general consensus being that the club will do well to keep him when his contract expires next summer.
In the meantime, he has a score to settle against UEFA Europa League quarter-final opponents Valencia CF. The coach and his brother Hakan Yakin were in the Basel side thrashed 6-2 at Valencia in the 2002/03 UEFA Champions League, drawing the reverse fixture 2-2. "They are attractive opponents whom we know only too well in Basel," he noted. "We lost that match in heavy rain. They are a team with a great tradition. It will be a good tie."
One in which Yakin's men are clear outsiders perhaps, but as FC Zenit, Tottenham, Chelsea and Salzburg have all discovered of late, Basel flourish with their backs to the wall.
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