This was my first trip away to Europe, and it certainly turned out to be a fantastic couple of days. The locals were very friendly, although the prices are pretty steep for everything (even Swiss stuff like the Army knives or Swatch watches costs more over there than in the UK). We had plenty of time to look around the city centre, with the Christmas market, the mighty Rhine passing through and the winding streets up to hilltop churches. Oh, and the bars were good too.
The Basel ground, St Jakob’s Park, is a really good venue – big enough to seat 40,000 but still with a nice close feel, and even though the away fans were in the corner, the view of the pitch was pretty clear. The home fans are certainly enthusiastic – all the way through the game the Ultras were singing, waving flags and jumping up and down. With only 1500 there, the Whites fans were never going to outsing them.
After one initial Whites chance from the start, Basel came forward in the first few minutes and Fulham were under some pressure until they settled in. Over time, the midfield of Murphy, Greening and Etuhu started to gain control, and the defence looked pretty solid. Zamora’s two goals at the end of the first half were well taken – classic six-yarders from Riise crosses, the first poked to the keeper’s right and the second headed in to his left. Bobby Z could have had a hattrick by then, having been given offside when he first found the net after 15 minutes.
The second half started well for Fulham, with less signs of the recent trend of pulling back after taking a lead. However, Basel had made two substitutions, and Alex Frei started to pick up his game, so the contest became far more even. Basel were given the chance to come back after Aaron Hughes had apparently handled the ball (although the ref initially pointed to the corner, and from our position it looked like it was accidental if anything. Frei made no mistake with the penalty, and the stadium came alive.
Shortly afterwards, Greening was replaced by Dempsey, and almost straight away the American was making his darting runs through the Basel defence. Zamora was still hunting for a third goal as well, trying to get through the offside trap. However it was Gera, having picked up a lovely chip ball from Kelly who’d moved up the wing, who took Fulham 3-1 up with 15 minutes to go. By that time, the travelling supporters were going barmy.
But we couldn’t bank on a win yet. Basel had nothing to lose, and still chased every ball. Duff replaced Zamora (who like Greening had been booked earlier), which did signal a slightly more defensive approach, and the Whites were relying more on Schwarzer to make some great saves. One of those led to a corner which saw the home side claw another goal back.
On 86 minutes, it was 3-2 to Fulham. If Basel equalised, they’d be through and Fulham would be knocked out. That last seven minutes (three added for stoppages) seemed to last about an hour, as Basel pushed forward – their keeper running up for corners at times. Dempsey almost killed the game off with a well-taken strike, but the RotBlaus did not give up until the last second.
It was an amazing game, and while it would have been more comfortable to have won 3-0 or 4-2, the close nature of the match and the quality of the opposition did make it worthwhile.
After the game, we took the tram back to the city centre (as it’s Switzerland, they were well prepared on public transport and everyone got away pretty quickly), to continue the celebrations. Cigars and Schnapps!