FC Basel 1893 travel to Wisła Kraków on Thursday with their European dreams intact, if not secure, thanks to the heroics of Croatia forward Mladen Petrić.
The 25-year-old has struck 12 goals in 14 league games this season and played a major part in the Swiss club's qualification for the UEFA Cup group stage with two goals in the 7-2 first-round victory over FK Rabotnicki. However, he and Basel have not performed well in Group E, and after taking just a point from their first two fixtures, looked set for another loss last week against AS Nancy-Lorraine when goalkeeper Franco Contanzo was dismissed and a penalty awarded against them.
Down to ten men and having used all their substitutes, Basel appeared destined for a 3-2 defeat. Redemption came when Petrić volunteered to go in goal, and promptly saved the day by keeping out Nancy defender Michaël Chrétien's spot-kick. Had Basel lost they would have faced an even greater challenge to qualify as third-placed Feyenoord, the team occupying the last qualification spot, have the same number of points and two matches to come, as opposed to Basel's one against Wisła.
Despite such a crucial intervention, Petrić played down the achievement. "In principle it is very easy, you choose a corner and dive," he said. "It is, of course, down to luck and I am happy I saved an important point for my team. We had already made three substitutions in the game and when the goalkeeper was sent off, I said, 'give me the gloves'. When I was a boy, I liked going in goal, I always liked the moves and saves that goalkeepers make."
Contanzo did lend a hand. "I had instructions from our keeper - when he was leaving the pitch he told me which side to go," Petrić continued. "Although I still say it's much harder to take a penalty than to be between the posts." For all his heroics, Petrić will be required to make even more of an impression at the other end when Basel go to Poland on Matchday 4 looking to end home hopes while keeping their own alive. "I still like scoring goals more than saving them," he concluded.
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