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Basel's Xhaka living boyhood dream

Obsessed with the UEFA Champions League as a boy, Taulant Xhaka is loving every minute of his journey in the competition with FC Basel 1893.

Taulant Xhaka is loving his UEFA Champions League adventure with Basel
Taulant Xhaka is loving his UEFA Champions League adventure with Basel ©AFP/Getty Images

With FC Basel 1893 entering their round of 16 second leg with FC Porto, Taulant Xhaka is relishing the UEFA Champions League experience – and hoping to get much more familiar with the business end of a competition he grew up obsessed with.

"I always watched it on TV and played on my PlayStation and now I am taking part, it's the best thing a player can imagine. This feeling motivates you a lot," said the 23-year-old full-back cum midfielder.

Not just satisfied with participating in the tournament, Xhaka is adamant he and his side – rated by many as minnows of the knockout phase – can make a serious impression against Porto. "Our goal must be to win against Porto and reach the quarter-finals and write history," said the Basel native who, unlike Swiss international brother Granit, has opted to represent Albania. "It is a positive pressure, I do not think it is negative. It is only about motivation and wanting to give 200%. Porto have quick players and especially in attack they have quality players. So you have to be really careful – and defend really well."

With one group-stage appearance from the last time Basel made the last 16 in 2011/12, Xhaka believes the game has advanced since then – when his side suffered a chastening defeat by FC Bayern München – and thinks the Swiss champions are now more suited to the modern way. "Football in general has changed, players have become faster and stronger, and what's important is that we have gained more experience. Every opponent can be beaten," he said.

The former Grasshopper Club Zürich loanee has assumed a key role in the squad since the arrival last summer of coach Paulo Sousa, adapting equally efficiently to defence or midfield depending on whether Basel operate a 3-5-2 or 4-4-2 formation. "I play in different positions," he said. "The coach decides where and I have to play that position. I'd say I am also one of the leaders, having been part of the team for a long time. I was loaned out once for a year but came back. So I think I am in a position of leadership."

Initially a midfielder yet increasingly utilised in defence, Xhaka's passing from either right-back or right midfield helps define the Basel model. "It is very important to bring the ball out of defence," he explained. "I think the most important thing is the first pass – you need to make as few mistakes as possible. The pass must be precise and in defence you need to win the one-on-one situations."

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