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Chelsea chastened by 'the miracle of St Gallen'

As Chelsea FC bid to avenge a matchday one home defeat by FC Basel 1893, the Blues' old guard may recall their first visit to Switzerland, when the "600-1 underdogs" prevailed.

Goalkeeper Jörg Stiel celebrates with his St Gallen team-mates after the 2-0 win
Goalkeeper Jörg Stiel celebrates with his St Gallen team-mates after the 2-0 win ©Getty Images

On matchday one, FC Basel 1893 added Chelsea FC to a list of recent Premier League scalps that includes Manchester United FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC, and a notable disaster on Swiss soil may play on the minds of some of the Blues' old guard as the visit St. Jakob-Park.

FC St Gallen were given short shrift after the 2000/01 UEFA Cup first round draw paired them with the resurgent English side. Under the stellar names of Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli the west London outfit had won the 1998 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and then reached the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals earlier in 2000, halted only by the brilliance of FC Barcelona. By comparison, St Gallen did not seem anything to worry about.

Midway through the tie, after a 1-0 home win at Stamford Bridge, that belief held true – it was left in tatters in the return as the team installed as "600-1 underdogs" by English newspaper The Times humiliated the Blues in their first European game under new coach Claudio Ranieri. During the first 45 minutes of the second leg St Gallen's bold, high-tempo approach left Chelsea chasing shadows.

"It was incredible," recalls Marcel Koller, St Gallen's then coach who is now at the helm of the Austrian national team. "I remember I told my boys ahead of the game that we didn't need to score two goals in the opening ten minutes; we had the whole game to turn around the deficit." His players did not seem to pay much attention as they burst out of the blocks, goals from Sascha Müller and Charles Amoah completing the turnaround inside 35 minutes.

"We had to survive a few critical moments after that but we made Swiss football history that day. It was fantastic, a real highlight," added Koller, who had guided St Gallen to only their second Swiss title the previous season. "As we all know, football is not always determined by finances; heart and determination often make the difference." For The Times, it was more than that: 'The miracle of St Gallen', their back page read the following morning.

It was some consolation for the team from the north-east corner of Switzerland after their UEFA Champions League bid had ended with a 4-3 play-off defeat against Galatasaray AŞ. Their goalkeeper that day was Jörg Stiel, a future VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach captain. "We proved against Chelsea that we were a mature team," he said. "The return leg was only our fourth European game. We learned quickly."

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