FC Basel 1893 hope to book their place in the group stage by beating FC Internazionale.
By Marco Keller
The only thing that stands in their way are Italian giants FC Internazionale. Most coaches at the helm of a club of Basel's size would have been delighted to have earned a creditable 1-1 draw in the home leg against the two-time European champions - but Christian Gross knows his side are only halfway to achieving a goal which he has been building towards for two years.
Like Arsène Wenger at Arsenal FC, Gross has told his players he wants his side to play out a "perfect season" - and part of that masterplan includes qualification to Europe's premier club competition. "We are a very strong side and there is no reason why we cannot play a perfect season," said Gross. "Playing in the Champions League is crucial for a side like us if we want to progress. It is no good just winning in your own domestic league."
Gross is well aware that, outside Switzerland, few people believe Basel can topple Internazionale. Those more familiar with the stylish side he has created may disagree. Although he was openly critical of the way Basel played in the first leg, Gross saw enough to suggest they are capable of causing an upset at the San Siro tonight.
A draw in the first-leg at St Jakob Park, thanks to Benjamin Huggel's header, means the tie is perfectly poised going into Tuesday's match. But Gross is disappointed that Basel are not taking a lead to Milan despite Inter's European pedigree. "I don't think 1-1 is a good result for a first leg match at home," said the former Tottenham Hotspur FC coach.
Lesson to be learnt
"If we had played to our full potential we could have easily won and had them worrying ahead of the second leg. People forget that our season has been going two months and yet the Italian season has yet to start.
Inter were much cleverer than us in the way they played and we must learn from this and make sure we don't make the same mistake on Tuesday," Gross added.
The Swiss coach believes many of his key players have still to find their best form this season. The usually reliable defender Murat Yakin appeared off colour against Inter, as did playmaker Mathias Delgado and his fellow Argentine Christian Giménez. Indeed, the only player who really produced his best was forward Julio Hernán Rossi, who played arguably his best match yet in the famous red and blue of Basel.
Last year Basel won the Swiss Super League by 13 points in a competition in which they lost only three times. The same was expected to happen this year, with no other side looking remotely capable of challenging them, especially after they added Mate Sterjovski, Cesar Carignano, Mladen Petric, Brazilian Under-20 international Kleber, and Thomas Mandl to their squad ahead of the new campaign.
Win at all costs
But, surprisingly, Swiss minnows FC Thun lead the Super League, with Basel in second one point adrift. With only six games played there is still time to put that right. There is, however, no room for error against Inter. Victory would not only give Basel the financial muscle to slug it out with Europe's élite, it will also be the perfect reward for two years of hard graft.