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Basel enter the big time

The celebrations weren't confined to Basel

(Keystone)

Swiss football champions FC Basel are looking forward to at least six more lucrative Champions League matches following their heroics against Liverpool.

Basel became the first Swiss club to qualify for the second round of the European competition after dumping out the English league leaders on Tuesday.

“I was very relieved when the final whistle went,” confessed Basel coach Christian Gross after seeing his unfancied side register a well-deserved 3-3 draw against the legendary north England club.

With Basel already one point ahead of Liverpool going into Tuesday’s game, that result was enough to send Gross’s men through and spark a massive street party in the city’s centre.

“It wouldn’t be bad to see Ronaldo here before Christmas,” grinned Gross as the partying got underway.

Basel’s budget might not yet stretch to buying the world’s most famous footballer but Ronaldo could well be on his way, momentarily, to the St Jakob stadium if Friday’s second round draw is kind to the Swiss side.

Then again, with 16 of the continent’s top sides competing in the second round, including Ronaldo’s Real Madrid, the draw is bound to ensure plenty of glamorous encounters.

First-half fireworks

Basel laid the foundations for their latest success during a fantastic first-half performance, which saw the Swiss club fire in three goals without reply.

But those foundations were given a good shaking in the last half-hour of the match. Two goals from Vladimir Smicer and Danny Murphy revived Liverpool's hopes before a late strike from England striker saw the British club pull level with just five minutes remaining.

Fortunately for the 29,500 Basel fans in the packed out St Jakob stadium that proved too little time for Liverpool with the referee's final whistle prompting jubilant scenes among Basel's players and supporters.

"At half-time, the manager told us to play as if the game was still goalless," revealed Argentinian forward Julio Hernàn Rossi, scorer of Basel's opening goal.

"We tried and tried but we're not that experienced and being 3-0 up against Liverpool is not as easy as it sounds!

"We might have relaxed just a little, but I think we let in those three goals because it was Liverpool, not because we relaxed. Liverpool are a great side and we're just Basel - we mustn't forget this!"

Swiss football revival

As well as prompting celebrations in Basel, Tuesday's result is already being seen as further proof of a revival in Switzerland's footballing fortunes.

"It's the biggest thing that's ever happened in Swiss club football," Swiss football association spokesman Pierre Benoit told swissinfo after the game.

"It's been a great year overall with the Swiss under-17 side winning the European Championships, the under-21s reaching the semi-finals, the senior side performing well and now this!"

"The good work we've been doing with the young players seems to be paying off and I do think we're drawing a little closer to some of the bigger clubs and countries."

Those sentiments were echoed by a slightly more impartial Swiss on Tuesday, with Liverpool defender and Swiss international Stéphane Henchoz passing on his congratulations to Basel.

"Of course this result hurts me," admitted Henchoz, "but I'm happy for Basel and for Swiss football as a whole - I think this will be very important for Switzerland."

Europe's best

Basel will now have at least six further chances to measure themselves against the best in Europe, but with only 16 clubs left in the competition things are about to get even tougher.

"We all believed from the start that we would get through so it's not a case of letting things sink in," beamed Basel's South African striker George Koumantarakis.

"In the next round we're going to be up against some of the biggest clubs in the world but this team has developed and we should now be able to enjoy it and gain even more experience."

And it won't just be in experience that Basel are set to profit. Even if the club lose all six matches in the second round, they are expected to earn more than SFr10 million in television revenue, ticket sales and competition funds.

"Financially speaking it's great for any club to be in the Champions League, let alone Basel," grinned Koumantarakis.

"Obviously you can't compare our budget with that of a side like Liverpool but I think you can say that this all means a lot, lot more to us."

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Basel

Basel Champions League

Basel secured their place in the second round thanks to a 3-3 draw against English league leaders Liverpool.
The result puts Basel among the top 16 clubs in Europe this season.
Participation in the second round is expected to earn Basel at least SFr10 million.

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