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Sunday, April 15, 2012

FC Winterthur 1-2 FC Basel

FC Basel March On To The 2012 Swiss Cup Final At The Expense Of Challenge League Side FC Winterthur

Streller hits the mark for Basel
FC Basel paid a visit to Winterthur in the canton of Zurich to play out their afternoon Swiss Cup semi-final fixture. Winterthur defeated fellow Challenge League side FC St. Gallen in the quarter finals to reach this stage while FC Basel hosted and defeated FC Lausanne back in March. The team to go through would face off against FC Luzern, who currently occupy second place on the Axpo Super League table and went through to the final after defeating FC Sion 1-0 during the week. Basel made a few changes to their side that drew with FC Luzern last weekend. Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka were rested from the midfield while Valentin Stocker got a rare start as he continues to work his way back from a knee injury that kept him sidelined for nine months. Radoslav Kovac replaced David Abraham alongside Aleksandar Dragovic in the back but the regular striking duo of Alex Frei and Marco Streller remained intact up front for the visitors.

Proceedings began much in favor of the home side. Winterthur played a high line of pressure, making Basel’s typical play of passing to their defense and building from the back difficult to execute. Winterthur were the first to get a good look at goal, but the play ended with the ball safely in the hands of Yann Sommer, Basel’s first pick keeper. The visitors were soon dominating, passing the ball around and possessing much of the play. Winterthur would be the side to also get the second attack of the game, forcing some heroics from Sommer when attacking midfielder Luca Zuffi was able to break past the Basel defense from a set piece, taking the initial shot. Sommer was able to make the first save but failed to keep the ball in his possession. It dropped to the feet of Luca Radice but he was unable to get it past the young keeper. An exceptional secondary save from the Swiss goalie meant that the scoreline stayed 0-0. FC Basel’s first real attempt came in the eighth minute after Winterthur had managed to threaten the Basel goal three times. Alex Frei got a shot off, but it went straight into the hands of Christian Leite between the posts for Winterthur. Basel were on the attack again soon after, but their efforts were again stopped by the Brazilian keeper. As the possession evened out and the attacks became less frequent from both sides, the midfields started to get chippy and restless.

Daniel Sereinig got a talking to after he came in hard from behind on Basel winger Valentin Stocker. In the 21st minute, after a few more hard fouls by both sides, Winterthur had another strong chance on goal thanks to a good run from their strike force and a good shot from striker Radice; whose effort was stopped by Sommer. Basel found it difficult to penetrate the disciplined Winterthur back line and found their plays being snuffed out by the defense. Basel’s true quality would show, however, after Marco Streller and Alex Frei turned a seemingly harmless series of passes into a 1-0 lead for the visitors. Streller received a pass from fellow striker Frei and was able to take it around the two Winterthur center backs and touch it neatly into the right hand corner, giving the visitors the lead.

Kuzmanovic felt that he should have had an opportunity to put the home side level just before halftime when he went to ground after attempting to tap the ball around Sommer, who was caught as the last man back when his defense failed to follow the run that the #7 was making for Winterthur. At first glance, it looked like Kuzmanovic had a good appeal for a penalty kick, but the ref made the right decision to not call the penalty kick and carded Kuzmanovic for diving. Video replay showed that he went down rather easily and unconvincingly. Streller’s goal in the 37th minute set the two sides apart at the halftime break.

Winterthur kicked off the second half and were immediately on the attack to try and mend the 1-0 scoreline that was in their opposition’s favor. Their early effort went well over the crossbar. Basel won their first corner kick in the 53rd minute of the match after a long period of Winterthur pressing their back line. Dragovic and Kovac were able to deal with the pressure accordingly but the home side were desperate for a goal. Winterthur were able to create some promising attacks, but their final efforts went either high, wide or to the hands of Sommer if they made it past the Basel defense. The quality of creation was there for the Challenge League team, but the quality of finishing couldn’t compare to Frei and Streller for FC Basel. FC Winterthur made the first substitution in the 59th minute, bringing on defender and former Basel academy product Dominik Ritter, who is still on the books of the reigning Champions and currently on loan to the Challenge League side. Basel continued to press the Winterthur defense, manager Boro Kuzmanovic making the right call to bulk up his defensive line. Basel wanted another goal to seal the win, so in the 71st minute, young Swiss prodigy Xherdan Shaqiri came on to replace Fabian Frei on the wing and to speed up the Basel attack. Shaqiri was immediately effective and Basel pressed the Winterthur backline for the remainder of the half. Winterthur got a few attacks in between the Basel pressure, quickly turning a loss of possession by the visitors into a threat on their goal.

In the 76th minute the home side replaced Radice, who was able to claim the majority of the closest chances for Winterthur at the end of the game, with young midfielder and Switzerland U19 international player Remo Freuler, on loan from Grasshoppers FC until 2013. Freuler made a noticeable impact on the Winterthur attack, setting up his teammates and forcing tackles from Kovac and Dragovic. Basel replaced seasoned center midfielder Yapi with Granit Xhaka in the 80th minute to give the teenager a runaround and help with the defense. The narrow lead had Basel fans on the edge of their seats and Winterthur fans were hoping for a breakthrough. Another goal came, but it was not in favor of the home fans. In the 88th minute, the entire Winterthur team got caught in the Basel penalty area after going up to pack the box for a corner kick. Dragovic won the ball for Basel just outside of his own box and it fell to the feet of Shaqiri. Shaqiri carried the ball up through the midfield with Alex Frei in stride and the two found themselves in a 2v1 with the Winterthur goalkeeper. Leite stood no chance whatsoever and Shaqiri selflessly passed the ball off to Frei, who made it 2-0 in favor of the visitors and secured them a spot in the final against FC Luzern.

The home side would get their name on the scoreline when they were awarded a penalty kick in the first minute of added time. Dragovic’s light tackle on the Winterthur front man brought him down awkwardly and the ref hesitated, but pointed to the spot. Kristian Kuzmanovic took the kick, sending Sommer the wrong way and putting the ball into the back of the net but it was too little too late and the 90+1 stoppage time goal wasn’t enough for the home side to recover from a two goal deficit.

Winterthur had a good run, reaching the semi-finals of the Swiss Cup despite their lower placement in the Challenge League. They were outplayed by the visiting side, but only narrowly. Winterthur created plenty of quality chances for themselves, but they were outdone by the class of Streller and Frei. Basel go through with the 2-1 win and are now 17 points clear at the top of the table and one game away from the Swiss Cup title. 

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