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HindustanTimes Fri,28 Nov 2014

Football

Basel looks to finish off Spurs in Europa League
AP
Manchester, England, April 10, 2013
First Published: 07:13 IST(10/4/2013)
Last Updated: 07:14 IST(10/4/2013)

After eliminating Manchester United from the Champions League last season, Swiss champion Basel will look to end another English team's adventure in Europe on Thursday and reach its first ever semifinal in European football.



Basel holds the upper hand in its Europa League quarterfinal against Tottenham after drawing the first leg 2-2 at White Hart Lane, having been two goals ahead after 35 minutes.

It will be confident of finishing the job at St. Jakob-Park, where the team has won its last four games in the competition without conceding a goal.

It was in the same stadium in 2011 that United fell to a 2-1 loss and exited the Champions League.

With Chelsea, Benfica and Fenerbahce all protecting two-goal first-leg leads in the other three quarterfinals, the Basel-Tottenham match is the hardest to call and it may come down to a moment of magic to decide the tie.

With Gareth Bale, Tottenham's star forward, missing with an ankle injury sustained in the first leg, the inspiration may come from Mohamed Salah Basel's Egyptian winger who ran rings around the Spurs defense last week. Only his finishing let him down in a man-of-the-match performance.

"If Mohamed could score as well, he would not be here anymore," Basel coach Murat Yakin said. "Or he would not have come here in the first place."

The 20-year-old Salah arrived from Arab Contractors FC in his native country last summer and is making a real impression in his first season in Europe.

"As a team we are on a very good run and we have a chance to make the semis — that is the most important thing," he added on UEFA.com. "In five years' time, maybe I will take those chances and score."

Basel, which finished third in its Champions League group to drop into the Europa League, is appearing in its 18th match in Europe this season, having started its continental campaign with a game in Estonia on July 17 in the second qualifying round of the Champions League.

The strain is beginning to show on Spurs as they look to balance progress in the Europa League with a bid for a top-
four finish in the Premier League, which would seal a return to the Champions League.

They have won just one of their last six matches in all competitions and are now without Bale, arguably the best player in England this season.

"It's been tense," Tottenham forward Clint Dempsey said. "I've felt like that's kind of what the atmosphere's been (at White Hart Lane). It's something that's been there. It's been noticeable in the last three home games."

With Tottenham facing an uphill battle to qualify and Newcastle 3-1 down to Benfica, Chelsea could again be the savior of English football this season after winning the Champions League in May.

The Blues beat Rubin Kazan 3-1 in the first leg thanks to a double by Fernando Torres and are looking to stay on course for a cup double, having also advanced to the semifinals of the FA Cup.

However, midfielder John Obi Mikel said Chelsea is struggling to get motivated for the competition as the club returns to the scene of its Champions League final loss on penalties to Manchester United in 2008.

"What do they say? Thursday nights, Channel 5?" said Mikel, repeating a chant sang by fans which is regarded as an insult to teams that are playing in the Europa League. "Hopefully, next season, we are not going to be in it and we are going to be prime time."

Chelsea could be relying again on Torres up front in Russia, with fellow striker Demba Ba a doubt after picking up an ankle injury in the Premier League win over Sunderland on Sunday.

Only two clubs Fulham and Steaua Bucharest — have overturned two-goal deficits from the first leg of a Europa League knockout match but that is also the challenge facing Lazio, which lost 2-0 at Fenerbahce last week.

The Italian club will be hindered by playing the second leg behind closed doors, as he completes a two-game sanction for offensive fan behavior at their last-32 decider against Borussia Moenchengladbach.

The Stadio Olimpico will be closed because it was the fourth offense this season.

"I'm sure it won't be a calm match, even without fans," Lazio coach Vladimir Petkovic said. "We will try to heat up things on the pitch even without the support and passion of our fans."

Fenerbahce is also seeking to reach a first European semifinal.


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