Fulham FC made light of their lack of international experience as they qualified for the knockout stage of the UEFA Europa League with an impressive 3-2 win against FC Basel 1893 at St. Jakob-Park.
With a 100 per cent record from five home European games this season, Basel needed only a draw to qualify. However, the form book did not deter Fulham, who were playing in the group stage of a European tournament for the first time. "We were confident before the game, you saw tonight with the players' determination how keen we were to get to the next round," said goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game and that Basel are very strong at home, but we've been playing well lately and we believed in our ability," added the Australian, whose coach at Fulham, Roy Hodgson, led Switzerland to the 1994 FIFA World Cup finals. "Anything's possible from here on in. If we get a lucky draw, who knows? There's no reason why we can't progress."
While the London club have little international experience, Schwarzer underlined that he and his team-mates have plenty, with Nigeria, Ghana, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Hungary and United States among the nations represented in the Cottagers' squad. "Our players have played all over the world," the 37-year-old explained. "There's enough experience in our team to deal with any opposition."
Schwarzer was on the winning side when Middlesbrough FC beat Basel in the 2005/06 UEFA Cup quarter-finals, losing 2-0 in Switzerland and going a goal behind in the second leg before fighting back to win 4-1 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate. This time a reverse looked possible after Fulham led 2-0 at half-time before Basel reduced the arrears with an Alexander Frei penalty. "They threw a lot of long balls forward, the referee gave the penalty, but you've got to deal with it," said Schwarzer. "After that the gaps started opening up in the Basel defence and we probably should have won by more in the end."
Zamora in awe
Bobby Zamora, who scored two goals in three minutes before half-time, agreed that the competition is a chance to put the club on the international map. "It's massive," he said. "A good run in the Europa is a chance to show everyone how far we've come," he said. "It's hard to come here, they're in good form and they've led the group from virtually day one."
Basel, experienced European campaigners and Switzerland's last remaining representatives in UEFA competition this term, were left to rue a missed chance. Thorsten Fink's side topped Group E after four rounds, winning twice against PFC CSKA Sofia and at home to AS Roma, only to lose their final two games. "It's a very bitter experience," said Valentin Stocker. "With two matches ago we were on the top of the table but we're not efficient enough to win matches like these." Substitute Xherdan Shaqiri added: "We went on the offensive in the second half but it wasn't enough. Nevertheless, we can be proud of our group-stage performance."
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