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Grasshoppers and St Gallen to kick off championship round

St Gallen and Grasshoppers return to the football fray on Friday

(Keystone Archive)

This weekend sees the resumption of football league action in Switzerland following an 11-week long winter break. Grasshoppers Zurich and St Gallen will get the ball rolling on Friday when the two title contenders clash at Zurich's Hardturm stadium.

Defending champions St Gallen are currently lying second in the league table just one point behind the winter leaders Lugano. A win in Zurich on Friday would put Marcel Koller's team back on top until at least Sunday when the Lugano restart their campaign with a home match against Sion.

Lugano, St Gallen, Grasshoppers and Basel are all seen as strong challengers for the title, but neutral fans of the game are only looking as far ahead as Friday's opening match in the hope that it might be as exciting as last season's fixture.

In the first game of the 2000 championship round, Grasshoppers and St Gallen fought out a thrilling 4-4 draw after the Zurich side had taken an early 3-0 lead.

Since then both sides have seen some dramatic changes in their personnel, with Grasshoppers experiencing by far the greatest upheavals. No less than seven of the players who took to the field against St Gallen 12 months ago have since moved on, along with former manager Roy Hodgson.

In keeping with his previous position as coach of the Swiss Under-21s, replacement trainer Hans-Peter Zaugg has put plenty of faith in Grasshoppers' youth system.

The club's two winter signings from Neuchâtel Xamax. Papa Bouba Diop and Henri Camara, will bring even more young blood to the side, while Croatian midfielder Mate Baturino and former Servette striker Luca Ippoliti have been brought in as more experienced players.

St Gallen will be without just three of the players who contested the 4-4 draw with Grasshoppers last time around, but all three were major contributors to the championship winning side.

Most obviously St Gallen have lost the services of last season's league top scorer, Charles Amoah, who moved to Austrian side Sturm Graz in a record transfer deal. Giuseppe Mazzarelli has also gone abroad, after switching to Italian team Bari.

Ionel Gane is the third player unavailable for Friday's match, although he at least should feature in St Gallen's plans for the rest of the season. The Romanian forward, who scored the second of St Gallen's four goals against Grasshoppers last March, is suspended for Friday's rematch.

swissinfo with agencies


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