A battle of firepower, youth and experience

Will the young stars of Grasshoppers still be celebrating on Saturday? Keystone

The Swiss football season heads into a dramatic final round on Saturday with defending champions St Gallen, the young guns of Grasshoppers Zurich and Lugano's attacking Argentinians all hoping to secure the league title.

This content was published on May 24, 2001 - 12:55

Grasshoppers Zurich are the only one of the three sides who can still win the big prize without depending on results elsewhere. A win away in St Gallen on Saturday would guarantee Hans-Peter Zaugg's youthful team the championship.

The former Swiss under-21 national trainer has surprised many during his first season in charge by taking a team with an average age of 24 to the brink of league glory. Most encouraging for Zaugg, though, is the way in which his side appear to have found their form at exactly the right moment.

"We've taken seven points from our last three games, while St Gallen have managed just the one," he points out. "If there is such a thing as an ideal time to visit St Gallen, that time is now."

The trepidation that teams can normally feel about playing in St Gallen's Espenmoos stadium is understandable. The defending champions have not lost at home in an incredible 35 matches, and have won all but one of their home games in this year's championship round.

St Gallen's manager Marcel Koller is confident that his side's impressive home record and their experience as defending champions will help their cause on Saturday.

"The matter isn't in our own hands anymore, but we just have to try and beat Grasshoppers," he insisted. "Unlike most of the players on the rival teams, we know what it takes to become champions."

A win over Grasshoppers on Saturday would assure St Gallen of a place in the final qualifying round for next season's European Champions League, but not necessarily the Swiss title. That's where the third team in the equation come in.

Lugano are currently lying second in the league but could celebrate their first Swiss title in more than 50 years on Saturday if they can beat Sion away and if Grasshoppers fail to beat St Gallen.

Lugano coach Roberto Morinini has his own spin on Koller's 'experience theory'.

"A team that has not enjoyed that much success yet is all the more hungry and motivated," Morinini claimed as he prepared his team for the trip to Sion.

Morinini's Lugano team have certainly looked hungry all season, constantly fielding the most attacking and aggressive line-up in the league, spearheaded by the potent partnership of Argentinian strikers Christian Jiminez and Julio Rossi.

But not even a 10-0 victory will help Lugano if things don't go their way on the other side of the country.

With both key matches being shown live on television and on giant screens at the home grounds of Lugano and Grasshoppers, tensions on Saturday are bound to be high in Sion, St Gallen and in homes across Switzerland as a whole.

by Mark Ledsom

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