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Pizzi backs Valencia at Basel

Juan Antonio Pizzi tips Valencia CF to shake off their recent Liga form and prevail at FC Basel 1893, who may turn to a 17-year-old in their bid for a second straight semi-final.

Juan Antonio Pizzi (right) struck an upbeat note on Wednesday
Juan Antonio Pizzi (right) struck an upbeat note on Wednesday ©AFP/Getty Images

Valencia CF have won all five of their UEFA Europa League away games this season and are aiming for a sixth victory as they visit FC Basel 1893 in the first leg of their quarter-final.

Basel, who beat Chelsea FC home and away in the UEFA Champions League, have been especially formidable at St. Jakob-Park this term but Thursday's match will be played behind closed doors following incidents in the round of 16 second leg against FC Salzburg. This leaves Valencia confident they can shake off recent mixed Liga form, despite the absence of suspended Javier Fuego and injured goalkeeper Diego Alves, defenders Víctor Ruiz and Ricardo Costa, and midfielder José Gaya.

Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said: "Maybe things are not going as well for us in the league as we would expect, but we feel strong. I believe we deserve to be among the last eight, and now we'll do all we can to get into the last four."

Drafting in Roberto Ibáñez, Jaume and Salva Ruiz from the reserves to cover for the missing players, Pizzi added: "Whether you're favourites or not depends on who you ask. My personal feeling is that we can win this game."

Basel showed their grit in the Stadion Salzburg comeback that took them through the last 16 – but to reach a second straight semi-final they may need better than these clubs' 2-2 draw here in the 2002/03 UEFA Champions League first group stage, in which Murat Yakin captained the hosts, as he had done in the earlier 6-2 loss in Valencia. Now Basel's coach, Yakin said: "It's a quarter-final against Valencia and we're all looking forward to playing a side from the Mediterranean.

"We're going to have to be very creative when it comes to our attack, but I've got lots of players who have this attacking mindset. We'll maybe try to make the most of our set pieces. They beat Barcelona away from home so they are dangerous, but if we play as a team and give it our best, then we can try to win it next week. We can get the result over two games."

However, Yakin is without Marco Streller due to torn adductor muscles, and his usual understudy Giovanni Sio is banned along with defender Marek Suchý; Valentin Stocker or Matias Delgado could deputise. Also unavailable are defenders Ivan Ivanov and Behrang Safari, while midfielder Fabian Frei is a doubt.

There may be a place for 17-year-old attacker Breel Embolo, a late substitute in both legs against Salzburg. "Breel has come on in recent games and I don't think we've seen any mistakes from him," Yakin said. "He's been very fresh. We'll see if he starts, but I would have faith in him. We're delighted to have him. He fits in here and that's all you can ask of a young player. Yes, he's an option."