Middlesbrough FC will face Swiss opposition for the second time in this season's UEFA Cup as today's quarter-final draw in Eindhoven paired the English club with FC Basel 1893.
A Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink goal gave the Teesside team victory at Grasshopper-Club on 20 October, and Steve McClaren's side will hope for a repeat performance when they visit the St. Jakob-Park for the first leg on 30 March with the return at the Riverside stadium on 6 April. Basel, meanwhile, will hope to build on a disappointing record against English clubs which has brought just one victory in nine matches.
That win came in the first of those encounters, against Sheffield Wednesday FC in the 1995 UEFA Intertoto Cup. Since then the Swiss Football League side have failed to emerge victorious in two games against each of Aston Villa FC, Liverpool FC, Manchester United FC and Newcastle United FC. Basel's Croatian forward Mladen Petrić believes his side face another stiff test against Middlesbrough, who eliminated Serie A's form side AS Roma in the Round of 16, saying: "Middlesbrough have a very good team. We have seen their value this season against Grasshoppers and especially now against Roma. But we're not satisfied yet with our UEFA Cup achievements and have a good chance to prevail over the two games."
Christian Gross's side have knocked out AS Monaco FC and RC Strasbourg in the last two rounds, and Petrić hopes his team-mates can draw heart from those performances, saying: "Beating the two French teams has given us a lot of confidence." The Croatian international feels the bare statistics of Basel's winless run against English clubs do not tell the whole story of a sequence that has also included two draws against Liverpool and a creditable 1-1 result against Manchester United, adding: "We've often played well against British teams."
Middlesbrough chief executive Keith Lamb was in cautiously optimistic mood after the draw, which pitted the winners of the tie against either AFC Rapid Bucuresti or FC Steaua Bucuresti in the semi-finals with the first leg taking place in the Romanian capital. "It's a very good draw but also a very difficult draw," Lamb told uefa.com. "Swiss football is quite strong at the moment as they've shown in the [UEFA] Champions League in recent seasons, but we're looking forward to the game, we'll treat Basel with the utmost respect but it's good for us. The draw's been fortunate for us although we mustn't lose sight of the fact that this is the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup and all the games will be difficult."
Lamb believes the club's progress in only their second campaign in UEFA club competition has put them on the map, saying: "This has brought the profile of Middlesbrough to the attention of the rest of Europe; two years ago, I don't think fans outside England had really heard of us. Now, through our exploits in the UEFA Cup last season and this, we've raised the profile of the club. Winning this competition would be beyond the fans' wildest dreams; if we're fortunate enough to lift the trophy it would be the biggest event in the history of Middlesbrough, the town as well as the club."
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