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FOOTBALL

Basel seeking to knock out United

Manchester United could turn to Danny Welbeck to solve their injury problems in attack as they tackle Basel on Wednesday needing a draw to reach the Champions League last 16.

United lost Javier Hernandez to an ankle injury at the weekend and with Dimitar Berbatov ruled out with his own ankle problem, Welbeck is likely to start despite only just returning from a muscle strain sustained on England duty on November 12th.

“We think with Hernandez that it’s torn ankle ligaments unfortunately,” said United coach Sir Alex Ferguson after Saturday’s 1-0 win at Aston Villa.

“That will keep him out for a month. We’re having a torrid time with injuries at the moment.

“But Danny Welbeck came back at Villa, got some time on the pitch, and he gives us an option for Wednesday. He’s not had a lot of football recently so it’s something I’ll have to consider.

“But I thought Nani did all right down the middle and Antonio Valencia also did very well when he came on so we’ve got some options up front.”

Victory at Villa Park represented United’s fourth 1-0 win in five league games since their 6-1 humiliation at home to Manchester City, but they continue to stutter in cup competitions.

Ferguson’s side were knocked out of the League Cup by second-tier Crystal Palace last week and last season’s beaten finalists have picked up only two wins from their five Champions League group games to date.

The 2-2 draw at home to Benfica in their last game gifted the Portuguese giants a place in the knockout phase and means United must not lose at Basel to avoid what would be only the third group-stage exit in their history.

United last went out at this stage in 2005-06 and Wednesday’s game will take place exactly five years to the day since the 2-1 loss at Benfica that abruptly curtailed their involvement in that season’s tournament.

Back then, United needed a win to go through, but at Basel’s St Jakob-Park stadium, a draw will suffice.

The hosts, though, will be gunning for a famous upset and, despite having only once reached the knockout rounds before, they will be buoyed by the 3-3 draw they took from Old Trafford in the reverse fixture on September 17th.

A quick-fire Welbeck brace put United 2-0 up inside 17 minutes but Basel hit back through Fabian Frei before an Alexander Frei double took them to the verge of a shock result, only for Ashley Young to head home a last-minute equaliser.

Alexander Frei — no relation to his younger team-mate — believes Basel’s performance in Manchester gave Heiko Vogel’s side belief that they could compete with Europe’s elite.

“The guys are really proud we got a 3-3 draw and it is something that will stay with them for the rest of their careers,” the Swiss international striker told the UEFA website.

“But the way I see it, it was more important for the future in general — when it happens, it’s absolutely amazing and something we may never experience again at Basel, but it shows that we have a future in UEFA competition.”

Young’s late goal preserved an unbeaten home record in European competition stretching back to 2005, and United are equally formidable on the road, having avoided defeat in their last eight away fixtures.

In the absence of the suspended Michael Carrick, Ferguson could ask Phil Jones to continue in the central midfield role he occupied against Villa.

“Jones is a natural centre-back but he’s so versatile he can play in midfield,” said Ferguson.

“We played him there because we don’t have Michael Carrick for Wednesday because he’s suspended and we have to look at options.

“We’ve also got Darren Fletcher available and we didn’t want to use Ryan Giggs against Villa because of the importance of Wednesday.”

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FOOTBALL

‘Overwhelmed’: Unaware Swiss super fan stunned about viral fame

A Swiss super fan who has shot to fame after images of him watching Switzerland’s win over France went viral told the media he was unaware of his viral fame - but that he was overwhelmed with the world’s attention.

‘Overwhelmed’: Unaware Swiss super fan stunned about viral fame
Image: Twitter.

Like most Swiss football fans, Luca Loutenbach’s Monday evening – highlighted by a surprise upset win over the current World Champions and tournament favourite France – went about as well as you could have expected. 

But while his side were putting on the pressure through late goals to push the game into extra time, Loutenbach’s image was being shared across the world. 

Two pictures of Loutenbach, juxtaposed from before and after Switzerland scored an equaliser in the 90th minute to send the game to extra time, were widely shared. 

The images were even shared by Sadiq Kahn, the mayor of London, who congratulated Switzerland and said the images summed up the beauty of football. 

On Tuesday, Loutenbach spoke with Swiss tabloid Blick to tell the story. He said he had no idea about the images as his phone had no reception in Romania – and only found out after the game. 

“I didn’t have a network during the game. But some fans around me were connected to the internet and quickly realized what was happening. What an incredible buzz!” said the man from the canton of Jura. 

While Switzerland have made it further than they have in their history in the tournament, Loutenbach is far from a bandwagon fan. He told Blick he’s seen around 50 national team games before. 

“It’s the most beautiful day in the history of Swiss football, let’s not be afraid of saying it. It is the accomplishment of the immense work of the ASF (Federation), of (coach) Petkovic and of the whole team” he said. 

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