Christian Gross pointed to FC Basel 1893's last venture into the UEFA Champions League group stage as a reason for optimism ahead of Tuesday's Group C visit of FC Shakhtar Donetsk.
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Coach Christian Gross pointed to FC Basel 1893's last venture into the UEFA Champions League group stage as a reason for optimism ahead of the opening game of this season's campaign against FC Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday.
Gross was at the helm for the first match of the 2002/03 competition when a 2-0 win against FC Spartak Moskva at St. Jakob-Park sparked a surprise run to the last 16. With Shakhtar arriving in Switzerland after a disappointing start to their domestic programme in Ukraine, Gross believes his team can create a sense of déjà vu. "That Spartak game gives me hope. We have to be clever and show a lot of courage as those will be the key factors in Tuesday's match," said the 54-year-old. "We mustn't get carried away and we have to be realistic. Shakhtar are under pressure so that should give us some opportunities which hopefully we can exploit."
Two survivors of Basel's adventure six years ago, Benjamin Huggel and Scott Chipperfield, should start the Group C curtain-raiser, although a third, Ivan Ergić, misses out after picking up a foot injury on international duty with Serbia last week. Full-back Behrang Safari is suspended, while Eren Derdiyok – the match-winner against Vitória SC in the third qualifying round – may return to lead the line as Gross aims to upset the odds once again. "It will need six really good performances to get any points at all," said Gross, whose league-leading side will also take on FC Barcelona and Sporting Clube de Portugal in the section. "It will be difficult. The pace of the games is a lot quicker, there's less space to work in, and the overall quality is much higher than in the Swiss league. Even so, we are never without chances of success, even if the chances are small."
Gross's cautious approach is in stark contrast to that of his Shakhtar counterpart, Mircea Lucescu. The 63-year-old Romanian, whose charges have won just one of their seven Ukrainian Premier League fixtures this season, is expected to employ an all-Brazilian attack spearheaded by top scorer Brandão for a match he feels will set the tone for the rest of the competition. "It's a Champions League game and that's completely different from a league match," said Lucescu, whose team showed their attacking potential in beating NK Dinamo Zagreb 5-1 on aggregate to clinch their group-stage berth for a third successive season. "The important thing here is to play to win the three points. The team that wins on Tuesday has a great chance of going through."
Răzvan Raţ and Dmytro Chygrynskiy are likely to slot into the back four after month-long injury lay-offs, as Shakhtar seek to get through to the knockout rounds for the first time in five attempts. "Basel are very strong mentally, they are very well-organised and very disciplined tactically, and they run a lot," Lucescu went on. "They're also very good on set-pieces. We know all that, but we also know they have some weaknesses."