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Thun in seventh heaven

Thun's players celebrate with their fans after the win against Malmö

(Keystone)

Football minnows Thun won the most important match in their history on Tuesday night to qualify for the lucrative final stages of the Champions League.

The small club from the Bernese Oberland overcame Sweden's Malmö 3-0 to become the third Swiss team ever to earn the right to take on the might of Europe.

The third-round qualifying tie between Thun and the Swedish champions saw the Stade de Suisse in Bern packed to the rafters for the first time since it opened at the end of last month.

Roared on by the bulk of the 31,243 fans inside the stadium, the new "heroes" of Swiss football scaled fresh heights on a night to remember.

Promoted to Switzerland's top flight only three years ago, the upstarts from Thun have rocked the established order in Swiss football, challenging the long-time dominance of Basel.

And this season's giant-killing exploits against two of the big guns of European football have won them many more hearts among neutral fans.

After Dynamo Kiev in the previous round, it was the turn of Sweden's top club Malmö to be left scratching their heads as to how a small team from Switzerland managed to make off with those Champions League millions.

Qualification for the final stages of the competition is estimated to be worth SFr7.5 million ($5.9 million) to a club. For Thun, who get by on an annual budget of SFr5 million, it's a veritable goldmine.

In making it through, they follow in the footsteps of Grasshoppers Zurich and Basel as the third Swiss team to have the opportunity to mix it with the best in European football.

Potential opponents awaiting them in Thursday's Champions League draw include glittering giants such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and AC Milan.

Mental strength

Thun may lack cash, big-name signings and experience, but they are not short of collective mental strength and organisation.

Despite losing their best players to the likes of Basel and Grasshoppers Zurich, the club still managed to finish second in last season's Super League.

Manager Urs Schönenberger has fashioned a squad based on the simple values of a strong work ethic, team spirit and keeping things simple.

Similar qualities, as noted by a recent article on the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper, also helped the town of Thun to drag itself out of a crisis at the start of the 1990s.

Successive cuts to the army, Swiss Post, the country's leading telecoms company, Swisscom, and the bankruptcy of Thun's savings bank cast a dark shadow over the town.

Yet even though they are obliged to play second fiddle to neighbours Bern and the popular tourist resort of Interlaken, in recent times the 41,000 residents of Thun have witnessed an economic renaissance driven by small and medium-sized businesses.

The success of the club in qualifying for the Champions League means that the spotlight will now fall upon the entire region.

swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux

Key facts

Thun beat Malmö 3-0 on Tuesday night. They won the first leg in Sweden 1-0.
The club's budget this year is SFr5 million.
Qualification for the group stages of the Champions League is expected to bring in SFr7.5 million.

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In brief

Founded 107 years ago, Thun are playing in a European competition for the first time in their history. As recently as eight years ago the team were languishing in the Swiss third division.

They were promoted to the second division in 1997 and made it into the top flight three years ago.

Second to Basel last season, Thun have seen their top players join championship-winning teams abroad. Alex Frei is now at Rennes in France and Marco Streller plays for Stuttgart in Germany.

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