(Translation by Thomas Snaith)
It has been a while since FCB was obliged to participate in these early UEFA Champions League qualification rounds. In 2012 FCB faced FC Flora from Talin and then Molde KF and CFR Cluj, but failed to qualify in the play-offs. This time the journey begins in northern Greece, the capitol of the Makadonia Region in Thessaliniki. This is the first pairing between a FCB and a Greek club.
PAOK FC was the only club from Greece´s 2nd largest city to be represented in Greece´s top league in the last season and this is their fourth UEFA Champions League qualification attempt. The biggest goal is to qualify for the group stages of the competition but so far this has remained a dream. The closest PAOK ever got to achieving their goal, was five years ago, when they failed to beat Schalke 04. Last time round , two years ago, it was AFC Ajax, who denied them qualification.
2nd place & cup winners
Last season PAOK were 2nd in the Greek league and won the cup for the 6th time. The team consists of several interesting players, including the Portuguese Viernha (ex-Wolfsburg), who played in the Bundesliga for 5 years. He team mates are Swiss-Serbian national Aleksandar Prijovic (ex-Lausanne Sport) and the Brasilian Pedro Henrique (ex-FC Zurich), both familiar to Swiss football fans. FCB coach Wicky made the following statement about the Greek side: “ They have a very experienced and robust team. The core of the team remained the same, compared to last season and they are very well organized. They play a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 and on top of that the atmosphere will be electric.”
The expected intense atmosphere at the Toumba stadium does not bother Valentin Stocker; He thinks that it is a shame that FC Basel supporters are boycotting the fixture due to personalized entry tickets: “ We are looking forward to the atmosphere in Thessaloniki; such atmospheres are why we play football. It’s a shame that our 12th man will not be there to support us, however our fans will fans will be a loud as ever during the return leg in Basel.”
Wicky needs to find a solution
The fact that Basel´s new defender Silvan Widmer wont´t be able to play, due to illness is a big challenge for FCB. Raphael Wicky has been working on a solution. There is the possibility that Basel´s coach will play a 3-4-3 system, which he has done in the past. “The missing right-defender may be replaced with a more offensive player, such as Raoul Petretta, but I am not sure yet”. Stated Wicky on Monday morning.
The chances lie at about 50/50. „ Both teams kick off the game with equal chances. It is always difficult when two fixtures have such value. We want to qualify and we believe in the opportunity we have. We respect our opponent but we came to Greece to win.”
However the fixture between FCB and PAOK ends, FCB´s European adventure has just begun. The game against a Greek side is new turf for FCB.