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Swiss football clubs gear up for Benelux challenge

St Gallen trainer, Marcel Koller, watches his team training in Bruges


The second round of football's UEFA Cup gets underway on Thursday with the three Swiss clubs involved facing tough assignments.

Dutch giants Ajax and Feyenoord travel to Lausanne and Basel respectively, while St Gallen take on Belgium's FC Bruges.

In terms of historic reputation Ajax are by far the strongest of the three opposing teams. The club which reached its zenith in the seventies with players such as Cruyff, Reps and Neeskens, has won the European Cup on no less than six occasions.

But since the 1995 Champions League triumph the club has suffered something of a decline, giving Lausanne cause to dream of a possible upset. Hopes have been further raised by the news that eight Ajax players are currently on the injury list and were unable to make the trip to Switzerland.

Memories of Lausanne's last encounter with Ajax is likely to prevent the Swiss side becoming too complacent though. In the same competition 12 years ago the club from canton Vaud suffered a 5-0 aggregate defeat.

More recent cause for concern may be the ease with which Ajax cruised through the first round, beating the Belgian club Ghent 9-0 over the two legs.

Lausanne's manager Pierre-André Schürmann has already warned of the need for careful play. "We can't leave ourselves open against Ajax," he insisted. "When you make mistakes against teams like that you get brutally punished."

Basel's manager Christian Gross believes that his side needs to produce two "extra-special performances" against their own Dutch opponents from Feyenoord.

"Feyenoord play technically strong and fast football," Gross warned. He added that the Dutch team would be particularly dangerous in their ability to switch quickly from defence into attack.

St Gallen's trip to Bruges may not bring to mind the footballing splendours of Ajax and Feyenoord, but the Swiss champions are unlikely to underestimate a team that is currently sprinting towards its twelfth Belgian league title.

Marcel Koller's team might justly feel that at their best they can beat any team, following their stylish win over Chelsea in the competition's first round. But with a record of 10 wins from 10 league matches, with 39 goals along the way, Bruges are clearly an in-form side.

"They shoot from all positions and have at least five attacking players in their line-up", Koller observed after watching the Belgian side's latest 5-0 league win.

St Gallen's young manager believes that there are weaknesses in the Bruges defence however. "They don't stick to their men, they give their opponents a lot of space," Koller reckoned. "That could give us some chances."

"Our aim will be to exploit that weakness", Koller continued, "while staying concentrated on our own defences."

Given the attacking strengths of all three of the Swiss club's opponents, it could prove to be a busy night all round for the defenders of Lausanne, Basel and St Gallen.

swissinfo with agencies

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