Inside the Brain of a Teenage Soccer Genius

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Second Chapter in the Basel Fairytale off to a Good Start

Valentin Stocker put the winning goal
past Manuel Neuer to give Basel a leg
up in the return leg in Munich

FC Basel were the victors in the much anticipated Bavarian derby as Bayern Munich were unable to hold off a strong Basel side at St. Jakob Park. Substitute Valentin Stocker netted his second goal of the season after being out of action for eight months with a knee injury and then a hamstring injury. The match was truly one to remember and proof that the UEFA Champions League is easily the most exciting league in the world. Both sides showed an impressive amount of pace and skill from each individual player as well as all-around tactical skill as a team. Basel’s defensive transitions were straight from the white board and Bayern worked the ball through the midfield and into the home side’s penalty area with pace and skill. Basel were the victors, but both teams certainly had their chances and played out an intense and entertaining first round of their UEFA Champions League fixture. 

Stocker’s goal was the icing on the cake for Basel as they did well to hold off the visiting German giants who were favorites to win the match. Basel’s young goalkeeper Yann Sommer, center backs Aleksandar Dragovic and David Abraham and outside defenders Joo Ho Park and Markus Steinhofer had notably exceptional games as they struggled to hold off the likes of Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben on the wings and the imposing presence of Mario Gomez and Toni Kroos in the middle. Basel’s goal came from the young substitute Valentin Stocker, who was set up by another late substitute Jacques Zoua while experienced forwards Alex Frei and Marco Streller had multiple chances but were unable to capitalize on any of them. Bayern’s midfield worked hard to set up multiple chances for Gomez, who boasts eighteen goals in all competitions this season, but the big German, although proving to be a handful for Basel defenders Dragovic and Abraham, was unable to finish any of them.
The center of the midfield was owned by the two opposing nineteen-year-olds, David Alaba or Austria and Bayern Munich, and Granit Xhaka of Basel and Switzerland. Alaba worked his way into several goal scoring positions and helped set up his Bayern teammates despite breaking into the squad due to the absence of Bastian Schweinsteiger. He was also disciplined in tracking back to help his young defensive duo Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuber. Xhaka showed admirable composure despite the fast pace of the game. He had no trouble handling himself in the midfield amidst the star studded and experienced Bayern midfield. His through balls to forward players Alex and Fabian Frei, Marco Streller and Xherdan Shaqiri were threatening, but none of the attackers were able to finish them. Experienced center midfielders Toni Kroos for Bayern Munich and Benjamin Huggel for Basel did their jobs well but were not as big of threats to the opposing defenders as the two teenagers proved to be.
Alex Frei came painfully close to scoring in the 18th minute but his cheeky flick over the arms of Manuel Neuer met the crossbar instead of the back of the net. Marco Streller also had his fair share of chances especially in the first half, but was not on the mark like he was against Manchester United. Mario Gomez was unable to add to his impressive goal tally but came repeatedly got himself into good positioning as he went up against Abraham and Dragovic. Arjen Robben was also a repeated threat to the Basel goal as he cut in from the right hand side while Frank Ribery was one of the better attackers with three clear chances on goal.  
Yann Sommer was clearly the man of the match. The young Swiss keeper played out the full 90 minutes despite a hard collision with Thomas Muller in the 73rd minute and made a host of impressive saves in the first half. Manuel Neuer didn’t have much to do after both Alex and Fabian Frei, Streller and center back Aleksandar Dragovic threatened the Bayern goal in the first half. In the second half Bayern held the most possession up front and he was able to relax up until Stocker nutmegged him to give Basel the lead in the 84th minute.
The 1-0 aggregate lead and not conceding a home goal means that Basel can breathe just a little bit when they visit the Allianz Arena on the 13th of March.  They will certainly be looking for the valuable away goal and hopefully an equally strong performance will come from Basel’s defense if the Swiss side hope to continue their historic run and move on to the next round.
Goals: Stocker (assist: Zoua) 84th minute
Yellow Cards: Abraham (Basel) 64th, Muller (Munich) 73rd, Rafinha (Munich) 83rd
FC Basel: Sommer, Steinhofer, Abraham, Dragovic, Joo Ho, Shaqiri (Zoua, 83rd), Xhaka, Huggel, F. Frei (Stocker, 66) A. Frei (Cabral, 90), Streller (C)
Bayern Munich: Neuer, Rafinha, Boateng, Badstuber, Lahm (C), Ribery (Muller, 71), Kroos (Olic, 89), Alaba, Tymoshchuk, Robben, Gomez

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