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Football: Deciding night for clubs on the brink

Will Gilbert Gress's cup winners be celebrating tonight?

(Keystone)

Tonight sees the final round of league action to determine which clubs will play in Switzerland's top two divisions next season. Aarau, FC Zurich and Bellinzona are the three clubs chasing the two remaining places in National League A.

The crunch game is likely to be at the Letzigrund, where FC Zurich face a showdown with Aarau. One of them will be relegated to the national B league if Bellinzona can win away to Sion. In such an event, a draw would be enough for Aarau to keep their NLA status. Zurich would have to win to keep theirs.

Relegation for Zurich would be a final twist in a season already warped beyond belief. Dumped out of the championship round after fielding an ineligible player, the club subsequently sacked manager, Raimondo Ponte, before winning the Swiss Cup under new coach, Gilbert Gress.

But the side's unexpected cup glory ten days ago will be all but forgotten tonight if Zurich are relegated. In 1992, Lucerne became the only side so far to win the cup and be relegated in the same season. The Letzigrund fans will be keen for history not to repeat itself.

The Zurich team will not be at full strength for tonight's encounter, after Liechtenstein insisted on calling up Mario Frick and Martin Stocklasa for an international friendly against Germany, despite attempts by Gress to intervene. Gress was at least more fortunate in his dealings with the Georgian football association, who agreed to do without Jamarauli and Kavelashvili for this month's matches against Azerbaijan and Estonia.

Zurich and Aarau will both be able to celebrate staying in the NLA if Bellinzona fail to beat Sion, who are already promoted after winning every single home game in the playoffs. Bellinzona will be relying heavily on Kubilay Türkyilmaz in his last game for the side before moving to join the Italian club, Brescia.

The top scorer in this year's playoffs, the Swiss international is planning to seal Bellinzona's promotion before hopefully watching his new team secure a place in Italy's Serie A on Sunday.

All three clubs in action tonight know that their fate is in their own hands. Any team that wins tonight is guaranteed a place in the NLA next season. However, there is one permutation that will allow all three into the top division.

On Friday, Neuchatel Xamax could be forced out of the top flight because of their crippling debts. Whoever loses out tonight would then be promoted after all. Either way, whether on the pitch or off it, there will be three winners and one loser before the week is out.

by Mark Ledsom



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