Benjamin Huggel says FC Basel 1893's billing as the weakest side in Group C could allow them to spring a surprise as they kick off their first UEFA Champions League campaign in six years against FC Shakhtar Donetsk.
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Benjamin Huggel says FC Basel 1893's billing as the weakest team in Group C could allow the Swiss Super League leaders to spring a surprise.
Christian Gross's side will begin their first group-stage campaign for six years when they welcome FC Shakhtar Donetsk to St. Jakob-Park on Tuesday. Faced with a section also featuring 2006 European champions FC Barcelona and Sporting Clube de Portugal, who beat Basel 5-0 on aggregate in the UEFA Cup Round of 32 last season, Huggel says the Swiss titleholders plan to exploit their underdog status. "We know that in this group we're the outsiders," said the 31-year-old Swiss international. "Every team think they're going to get six points out of us, and that in itself is enough motivation for us to try to ruin their hopes."
A survivor from Basel's last foray into the group phase, Huggel played a central role in the club's return to European football's élite competition. His away goal against IFK Göteborg in the second qualifying round earned a 1-1 draw before another strike in the nail-biting return leg helped secure a 5-3 aggregate win. The former Eintracht Frankfurt man also featured in both games as Vitória SC were beaten in the next round. Such imperious form, he says, is the fruit of an industrious pre-season. "I was in good shape already last season and I had time to prepare for the new season," said Huggel, who has scored three times in eight Super League appearances this term. "I had two weeks' solid preparation and everything has gone really well. I hope I can maintain this until the winter break."
The prospect of UEFA Champions League football come the new year should be a major source of motivation as Basel aim to improve on their last showing in the competition in 2002/03. Then, an opening-night victory over FC Spartak Moskva proved the catalyst for the team to reach the second group stage, where they only narrowly failed to emerge from a pool composed of heavyweights Manchester United FC, Juventus and RC Deportivo La Coruña. "The memories of six years ago are very positive. We reached the group stage after four games, and then we reached the second group phase," said Huggel. "They are memories I will cherish."