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Double delight for Basel

It's been a long wait for the Basel players and their fans

(Keystone)

FC Basel have completed the Swiss league and cup double after beating arch-rivals Grasshoppers Zurich 2-1 in the Swiss Cup final.

Sunday's victory, secured thanks to a Murat Yakin penalty scored deep into extra time, completed a fairytale finale to Basel's season - in stark contrast to the club's disastrous league start, which included an opening day 8-1 defeat in Sion.

"It's been fantastic," Basel coach Christian Gross told swissinfo after Sunday's match. "We started off in the worst possible way but came back step by step to dominate the league championship. To go on and win the Cup straight after celebrating the league title is just great."

Professionalism

Gross paid tribute to the professionalism of his squad who managed to stay off the championship champagne long enough to see off Grasshoppers in a hard-fought and occasionally controversial final.

Playing in front of a highly partisan crowd at their own St Jakob stadium, the newly-crowned champions got off to a dream start when Cameroonian striker Hervé Tum opened the scoring with less than five minutes on the clock.

For the rest of the half though Grasshoppers gave as good as they got and found themselves back on level terms in the 38th minute when Swiss forward Mladen Petric headed in a perfectly weighted cross from Uruguayan star Richard Nuñez.

Goal disallowed

As the first half drew towards a close, Swiss international Murat Yakin appeared to have put Basel back in front but his goal was ruled out for handball. The home supporters were far from impressed but television replays backed the referee and even suggested that the Basel captain had been lucky to stay on the pitch.

Slippery conditions and increasingly taut nerves made the second half a much scrappier affair with both sets of forwards failing to make the best of the few chances offered.

In the end though it wasn't an act of brilliance that decided the match but one of calculated cynicism deep into extra time.

Penalty

With Grasshoppers keeper Fabrice Borer drawn off his line, the Zurich team's captain, Boris Smiljanic, found himself alone on the goal-line just as Basel forward Scott Chipperfield lobbed a perfect ball into Tum. Faced with an almost certain goal for Basel, Smiljanic deliberately punched the ball over the bar, conceding an inevitable penalty and red card along the way.

Fortunate perhaps to be still on the pitch following his own handball in the first half, Murat Yakin promptly stepped up to bury the ball and Grasshoppers' chances.

"I can't comment on Murat's handball because I was very far away from it," Gross insisted as the celebrations got into full swing, "but there was clearly no question about the second incident and I'm just happy that it stopped the match from being decided in a penalty shootout."

Long wait

Sunday's victory and the league success beforehand has put an end to some long waiting in Basel. As well as winning their first league title in 22 years and their first cup trophy in 27 years, the team have also now clinched the double for the first time since 1967.

Gross himself has been rather more successful in recent years. As well as his two titles with Basel, the 48-year-old former Tottenham Hotspur coach also boasts two championship titles and one Swiss Cup win from his days in charge of Grasshoppers.

"It's the first time that I've managed to win the double though," Gross points out, "and it's amazing to achieve that with all the expectations that were on us at the start of the season. If we had finished this year without a title, I think things would have been very difficult for me.

"But that's life as a coach," he reflects with a grin, "and now I'm just looking forward to next season - although the expectations are going to be even higher now!"

by Mark Ledsom, Basel


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