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Basel celebrate historic feat

FC Basel have become the first ever Swiss club to reach the second round of the European Champions League after drawing 3-3 with Liverpool.

While the Swiss side failed to hold on to their magnificent 3-0 lead in the first half, the result marks a high point in Switzerland's footballing history.

Christian Gross's men went into Tuesday's game with a one-point lead over their illustrious opponents, putting them under intense pressure to at least draw in order to go through.

The two sides drew 1-1 in their previous match in England.

"I always felt very confident and I knew we could make it," a jubilant Gross said after the game.

"We've gone one step further in the direction of the game's greats and we've shown what we're capable of."

Playing in front of a sell-out crowd of 29,500 at St Jakob's Park, Basel, the home side quickly proved they were not about to be intimidated.

Argentinian striker Julio-Hernan Rossi stunned spectators when he scored only two minutes after kick-off. His teammates Christian Gimenez and Timothée Atouba then got in on the action, scoring in the 22nd and 29th minute respectively.

At half-time the 3-0 scoreline was accompanied by the announcement: "Yes, this score is correct. It's real."

Merseyside comeback

Despite giving Liverpool a drubbing in the first half, it wasn't long before the Swiss side realised their opponents wouldn't wave goodbye to their Champions League dreams without a fight.

Midfielders Danny Murphy and Vladimir Smicer both struck gold in the 60th and 63rd minute, before England star Michael Owen made it 3-3 from the penalty spot in the 85th minute.

Despite intense pressure by Liverpool in the last five minutes, Basel held out to ensure they finished with nine points to Liverpool's eight in Group B. Valencia had already won the group, with 16 points.

Revenge for Gross

Victory came as a personal triumph for Gross, who experienced ten miserable months at London's Tottenham Hotspur and had his coaching widely questioned.

During his time in Switzerland, Gross has twice previously come agonisingly close to similar European feats in the late 1990s as manager of Grasshoppers Zurich.

"It's a tremendous achievement for the players and the club," Gross said. "We played a fantastic first half, although we lacked energy after half-time."

Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier also had words of praise for Basel.

"I give credit to Basel for the way they managed to dig in, [though] I'm disappointed not to qualify," the Frenchman told reporters after the match.

"But I'm very proud of my players' effort and response in the second half, particularly being down 3-0 at half-time away from home."

The draw for the second phase of the Champions League is due to take place on Friday.

Scuffles

Police in Basel arrested 43 people, mainly Liverpool supporters, in scuffles before the match.

A spokesman for Basel police said some fans were detained for vandalism and some for drunken and disorderly behaviour, adding that none of the incidents had been serious.

The police presence in Basel had been beefed up following trouble in Zurich on Monday night when 15 football fans were arrested following a brawl.

One 35-year-old British man required hospital treatment for a head injury after trouble flared outside Zurich's main railway station.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Basel took a 3-0 lead after only 29 minutes, but Liverpool rallied with three late goals.
Basel were seen as rank outsiders for a place in the second round.

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