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Rediff.com  » Sports » Basel face Bayern, Italian clubs face Champions League challenge

Basel face Bayern, Italian clubs face Champions League challenge

Last updated on: February 21, 2012 11:29 IST

Basel face Bayern, Italian clubs face CL challenge

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Surprise package FC Basel will be the only reigning domestic champions in action in the Champions League this week as they host Bayern Munich in the first leg of the round of 16.

Napoli, at home to Chelsea, and Inter Milan, away to Olympique Marseille, will attempt to continue Italy's impressive run in the competition, defying suggestions that Serie A is in a downward spiral.

Real Madrid will have to face the rigours of the Russian winter on their visit to CSKA Moscow where they must also adapt to the Luzhniki's stadium plastic pitch.

Image: Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery goes through the grind during a training session
Photographs: Getty Images
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Basel enjoying 13-match unbeaten run

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It may, however, be preferable to the awful conditions Benfica faced at Zenit St Petersburg last week where their coach Jorge de Jesus compared the frozen, bumpy pitch to a "field used for a kickabout."

Swiss champions and league leaders Basel, who pulled off the only major upset of a predictable group stage when they beat Manchester United 2-1 to qualify at the expense of the English side, go into Wednesday's game with 13-match unbeaten run behind them.

Basel coach Heikko Vogel, given the job on a full-time basis following the win over United, knows plenty about the Bavarians as he spent nine years working in their youth department.


Image: FC Basel's players celebrate
Photographs: Reuters

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Last season Bayern beat Basel in the group stages

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A further twist is that Basel winger Xherdan Shaqiri will be playing against his future club, having signed for Bayern two weeks ago. He will join them in the summer.

The two sides met in the group stage last season when Bayern came from behind to win 2-1 with Bastian Schweinsteiger scoring both their goals.

"Schweini" also scored twice for Germany at the same St Jakob Park stadium during Euro 2008.

Bayern, whose Allianz arena will host the final, finished third in the Bundesliga last season and had to face a two-leg qualifier, where they beat Basel's compatriots FC Zurich to reach the group stage.

Image: FC Basel's Xherdan Shaqiri
Photographs: Reuters
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Napoli to go into Chelsea game without banned coach Mazzari

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Italy was the only country which managed to get all three of its group stage representatives into the last 16 and there was more encouragement last week with AC Milan's 4-0 thrashing of Arsenal.

Napoli, an erratic side who save their best for the big occasion, also face Premier League opposition in troubled Chelsea on Tuesday.

Third in Serie A last season, they have a formidable home record and are unbeaten in 11 games at the San Paolo since returning to European competition in 2008 following a 13-year absence.

They will be missing coach Walter Mazzarri, banned for two matches after he was sent off for pushing Villarreal forward Nilmar in a group game in December.

Mazzarri, who said he was trying to galvanise his players, shrugged off suggestions that Chelsea were struggling.


Image: Branislav Ivanovic (left) and Michael Essien (right) warm up in wet conditions during the Chelsea training session in Naples on Monday
Photographs: Getty Images
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Real Madrid head to chilly Moscow

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"Chelsea is a team which is rich in champions," he said. "They have players who are used to these international competitions and I don't think we are by any means facing a team in crisis.

Inter Milan, who have taken only one point from their last 15 in Serie A, will have to put domestic worries aside on their visit to Olympique Marseille on Wednesday.

Claudio Ranieri's team lost 3-0 at home to Bologna, their second home defeat against teams from the lower end of the table in six days, on Friday, and fans called for the return of Jose Mourinho, who led their treble-winning campaign two seasons ago.

The Special One, however, has worries of his own as he leads Real Madrid to Moscow where the forecast on Tuesday is for snow showers and a minimum temperature of minus nine Celsius.

Real were the only team to come through the Group Stage with maximum points and are also dominating the Liga.

CSKA, who qualified as runners-up in the 2010 Russian Premier League, have been out of action since December due to the winter break.


Image: Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (left) and Pepe vie for possession during a a training session at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on Monday
Photographs: Reuters

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