FC Basel 1893 took a significant step towards the last four of the UEFA Cup after an impressive 2-0 victory against Middlesbrough FC in Switzerland.
Two goals just before half-time inflicted a serious blow to the English Premiership side as Basel made the best of difficult conditions at St. Jakob-Park. On 43 minutes Matías Delgado collected his seventh goal of the competition when his hopeful long-range effort took a wicked bounce off the greasy surface and arced over the unfortunate Mark Schwarzer. The Australian international was beaten again before the interval as David Degen earned Basel a valuable first-leg cushion.
It was a deserved strike for Degen, whose tireless running proved a constant threat to the visitors' shaky defence. After Eduardo glanced a header wide on ten minutes, he was given a clearer opening when he met Degen's pullback, before testing Schwarzer with a shot on the turn. Middlesbrough, meanwhile, were limited to half-chances as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink drove a free-kick off target midway through the half, while a swerving attempt from Gaizka Mendieta forced Pascal Zuberbühler to tip over.
With opportunities at a premium for Middlesbrough, Basel were rewarded for their endeavour through Delgado's opener, before Degen outpaced a sluggish back line to latch on to Eduardo's through-ball and drill a low shot beyond Schwarzer. The timing was terrible for Steve McClaren's men but they responded well after the break.
Hasselbaink drew a diving stop from Zuberbühler three minutes into the second period and Chris Riggott went even closer as he met a corner with a towering header. It cannoned off the crossbar, however, and Delgado repeated the feat at the other end with a free-kick as the game opened up. Riggott was on more familiar defensive duty on 70 minutes, his goalline block denying substitute Scott Chipperfield.
Another replacement, Ugo Ehiogu, almost reduced the deficit late on but Zuberbühler made a fine save, meaning Basel take a healthy lead to the Riverside stadium next week.