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Giant-slayers FC Basel take on Chelsea

Chelsea will attempt to succeed where Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur both failed when they tackle FC Basel in the first leg of their Europa League football semi-final on Thursday.

Giant-slayers FC Basel take on Chelsea
FC Basel players celebrate victory after their Europa League quarter-final second leg against Spurs. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Winners of last season's Champions League, Chelsea have had to make a priority of Europe's second-tier cup competition this term as opportunities for winning silverware have fizzled out around them.

They are just two matches from the final in Amsterdam on May 15th, but in Basel they face a team who sensationally knocked United out of last season's Champions League and put paid to Spurs in the last round of the Europa League.

The current Swiss Super League leaders have also gone six home games without defeat in this season's competition.

Complicating matters further is the fact that Chelsea's main priority is the battle to qualify for next season's Champions League.

Having become the first defending champions not to progress beyond the group phase of the following campaign's competition, failure to qualify for next season's tournament would complete a startling fall from grace.

The quest for a Champions League place was compromised on Sunday by a 2-2 draw at Liverpool that left the London club in the fourth and final qualifying berth.

Given the intensity of the competition for a top-four finish in the league, Chelsea's extra-curricular activities in Europe threaten to take a costly toll, but goalkeeper Petr Cech says their dedication to the competition remains uncompromised.

"We are in a position where we fight for everything," Cech said.

"We have a lot of pressure playing in the Europa League because we obviously want to win it," he said.

"Every league game we are in the fight for the top four places and it's very tight there."

Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez has sought to keep his squad fresh by changing his starting line-up between each league and Europa League fixture, and he is likely to do so again at St Jakob Park on Thursday.

That may mean a return to the substitutes' bench for striker Fernando Torres, who played the full 90 minutes at former club Liverpool on Sunday.

However, the Spaniard has started all six of Chelsea's games in this season's competition and sees the Europa League as an opportunity to atone for a disappointing campaign.

"The competition is helping the team a lot, because it is giving us a lot of satisfaction — not like in the Premier League this season, and we lost the semi-final of the FA Cup, so we were also close (there)," he told uefa.com.

"But the Europa League is keeping us in a good mood and thinking it could be a good season."

Basel reached the last 16 in the Champions League last season before being crushed 7-1 on aggregate by Bayern Munich, who lost to Chelsea in the final.

They do not appear to have been scarred by the experience, however, having beaten Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and Zenit St Petersburg before edging Spurs on penalties after a 4-4 aggregate draw in the last eight.

Basel hope to become the first Swiss team to reach a major European final, and manager Marat Yakin says they will not be overawed by Chelsea.

"Fenerbahce would obviously have been a special draw for me, but now we simply have to find a way to prevail against Chelsea," said Yakin, who is of Turkish descent, after the semi-final draw earlier this month.

"Chelsea are the best team left in the competition, but there is no reason to feel upset or afraid of this draw."

The English side can at least console themselves that they will not have to face Basel's former talismanic striker Alexander Frei, who retired from football to take up a managerial post at FC Lucerne earlier this month.

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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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