Lausanne’s revamped Pontaise Stadium is braced for a noisy, emotional night of European football on Thursday as FC Lausanne Sport prepare to meet CSKA Moscow.
The Swiss minnows are hoping to continue their run of success both in Europe and in the Swiss second division. Lausanne qualified for the group stage of the Uefa Europa League with a shock win on penalties over Russia's Lokomotiv Moscow.
Coach Martin Rueda says Lausanne are the clear underdogs in the group phase, which pits them against CSKA Moscow, Palermo and Sparta Prague, but feels they still have a chance.
“We showed in the qualifying stages that we can hold our own against the big teams but it won’t be easy,” he told swissinfo.ch. “We’ll play free, attacking football, putting early pressure on them and not ask too many questions.”
Lausanne are a young side, added Rueda, but have an excellent team spirit and a number of outstanding individuals like the experienced midfielder Fabio Celestini, Rodrigo Tosi and Silvio.
Lausanne President Jean-François Collet agreed CSKA would put up a tough fight.
“In attack they have Vagner Love – one of the best Brazilian forwards in the world – and beside him Seydou Doumbia [ex Young Boys and 2009 Swiss player of the year], who we all know,” he said.
They also have excellent playmakers like Keisuke Honda, the blond Japanese star of the 2010 World Cup, Serbian left winger Zoran Tošić and Liberian midfielder Sekou Oliseh.
Diehard Lausanne fans are still pinching themselves about playing in the Europa League, formerly known as the Uefa Cup.
“It’s extraordinary what they have done,” Donato Mattini, president of the Confrérie Supporters Club, told swissinfo.ch. “If six months ago you’d have told me this Thursday Lausanne would be playing in front of 14,000 people I’d have asked you if you’d been drinking too much wine.”
The team, who play to home crowds of 3,000, are currently enjoying an excellent run of form: second in the Swiss Challenge League after finishing tenth last season. They slipped up on Saturday losing top slot after a 2-1 defeat to Wohlen, but this was their first defeat in 12 matches.
Lausanne went through to the Europa League qualifying stages as last season’s beaten Swiss Cup finalists. They lost 6-0 to FC Basel who automatically qualified for the Champions League.
In the qualifying rounds Lausanne eliminated Borac Banja Luka and Randers FC before squeezing through 4-3 on penalties in the second leg against Lokomotiv Moscow.
Their recent success story is all the more remarkable as Lausanne are one of the oldest football clubs in Europe and used to be one of Switzerland’s biggest sides in the 1930s, 60s and late 90s.
But in 2002-2003 financial problems led to their relegation to the Swiss fourth division. Lausanne-Sports were forced to file for bankruptcy before being reformed as Lausanne Sport.
Fans say their return from the dead and maturing are the result of a combination of factors: professional management under Collet, a strong youth policy, the arrival of the charismatic Celestini, who used to captain Marseille and played for Getafe, the recent appointment of Rueda and a dose of good luck.
“It’s the result of an intelligent policy to financially rebuild the club from its foundations – we are now on the first floor,” said Lausanne fan Christian Michoud.
For a small Swiss club to play at this level in Europe is great for the image of the club, city and Swiss football, but it is also very appealing financially, said Collet.
Lausanne have a reported annual budget of around SFr4 million ($3.9 million) and will receive around SFr1.5 million for taking part in the six Europa League group matches.
Yet despite the excitement and magic of European football, Collet and Rueda remain focused on their long-term goal.
“The Europa League is the cherry on the cake,” said Rueda. “What is really important is getting back into the Super League [the Swiss first division].”
The club have set themselves a promotion target of 2014-1015, which is when they should move into their new modern stadium at Maladière close to the lake.
To compete and stay among the likes of Basel and Young Boys, Lausanne will need to find at least another SFr7 million annually.
And without money the club will struggle, says François Malherbe, president of the But Club supporters association.
“Neuchâtel has Sylvio Bernasconi, Sion has Christian Constantin, Servette has Majid Pishyar, and Basel has Gigi Oeri,” said Malherbe. “Without a wealthy benefactor or sponsor we will never be able to get promoted and stay up.”
Lausanne Sport’s origins date back to 1860, when the Lausanne Football and Cricket Club was founded by English students from private schools in the local area. It is thought to be one of the oldest clubs in Europe.
The football club took on the name Montriond Lausanne in 1896 and became a founder member of the Swiss Football Association and participated in the first Swiss championship in 1897/98.
The club currently play at the Pontaise Olympic Stadium in Lausanne which is a 15,850 all-seater stadium once used for the 1954 Fifa World Cup, held in Switzerland.
Lausanne played in the Swiss First Division between 1906-1931 and 1932-2002. After the 2001-2002 season, Lausanne-Sports were relegated due to financial problems. The club were again relegated to the fourth division after the 2002-2003 season due to bankruptcy. They were reformed as FC Lausanne Sport and were promoted in consecutive seasons to the second division.
Lausanne have won the Swiss First Division title seven times (1912–13, 1931–32, 1934–35, 1935–36, 1943–44, 1950–51, 1964–65) and the Swiss Cup nine times (1935, 1939, 1944, 1950, 1962, 1964, 1981, 1998, 1999).
They have played several times in European tournaments, including the quarterfinals of the 1964/65 European Cup Winners Cup, when they lost 6-4 to West Ham, and the semifinals of the 1957 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, when they lost 3-2 to the London XI.
Their last European competition was the 2001 Intertoto Cup, where they lost 5-2 to Basel in the semifinals.
Uefa stadium regulations
To compete in the group stages of the Europa League, Lausanne have had to renovate the Pontaise Stadium, installing 137 additional floodlights, 17 video surveillance cameras, electronic turnstiles at each entrance, as well as meeting additional security costs.
The changes will cost approximately SFr500,000, of which SFr300,000 has been promised by the city of Lausanne authorities.
The club and supporters are generally happy about the decision by Uefa as they feared travelling to Geneva to play their European home games.