Chelsea looks to succeed where Spurs failed

Updated 25 April 2013
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Chelsea looks to succeed where Spurs failed

PARIS: If Chelsea are to salvage a trophy from their difficult campaign, they will have to succeed where their London rivals Tottenham Hotspur have already failed and beat Switzerland’s FC Basel in their Europa League semifinal tie.
The two sides meet at the St. Jakob-Park in today’s first leg, with Chelsea wary of the threat posed by a side that eliminated Spurs on penalties in the quarter-finals.
After starting the season as European champions, Chelsea never even wanted to be in this competition, but now the focus is on going all the way and lifting a trophy they have never won before.
The desire to do so is made even more acute by their recent FA Cup semi-final loss to Manchester City.
“The competition is helping the team a lot, because it is giving us a lot of satisfaction — not like in the Premier League this season, and we lost the semi-final of the FA Cup, so we were also close,” Fernando Torres, who could start the game on the bench if interim manager Rafael Benitez again chooses to rotate his squad, told UEFA.com.
“But the Europa League is keeping us in a good mood and thinking it could be a good season.”
No English club has won this competition — which was re-branded from its traditional title of the UEFA Cup in 2009 — since Liverpool in 2001, although Middlesbrough and Fulham have both been runners-up since.
But if Chelsea are to make it to the final in Amsterdam on May 15, they must get the better of opponents who, as well as sending Zenit St. Petersburg and Tottenham packing from Europe this season, also won at home to Manchester United and Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League.
Basel have lost just once in 21 competitive games since the beginning of December — and that was an ultimately inconsequential 1-0 loss away to Zenit. Murat Yakin’s side are three points clear of Grasshopper at the top of the Swiss table with eight games left to play, and the coach is relishing the tie.
“Chelsea are the best team left in the competition, but there is no reason to feel upset or afraid of this draw,” he said recently.
The draw prevented Yakin, the former Swiss international of Turkish descent, from coming up against one of his former clubs in Fenerbahce, with the Turks drawn to face Benfica instead.
Like Basel, the Istanbul club are appearing in their first European semi-final, and will need to make the most of their home advantage in the first leg against Benfica, who are unbeaten in their domestic league all season and beat Newcastle United in the last eight.
To Fener midfielder Emre Belozoglu, Benfica were “the most difficult side we could have been paired with.” Portugal’s biggest club are desperate to get their hands on a European trophy again, more than 50 years after Eusebio’s team won back-to-back European Cups.
“We are growing and improving,” said sporting director Rui Costa after the semi-final draw was made. “We are happy to be here but we want more: our goal is to reach the final.
“Benfica have not participated in a European final for many years and we believe the wait could be about to end.”


Saudi Arabia step up their World Cup preparations by flying to Switzerland for training camp

Updated 50 min 43 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia step up their World Cup preparations by flying to Switzerland for training camp

  • Squad of 28 to be based in Zurich
  • Friendlies on the horizon against Italy and Peru

Juan Antonio Pizzi has taken a 28-man squad to Zurich for the final stage of the Green Falcons’ World Cup preparations.
The party flew out of Jeddah late last night and landed in Switzerland early this morning. There they will be joined by Fahad Al-Muwallad and Salem Al-Dawsari who will fly in from Spain after playing for Levante and Villarreal on Saturday night.
The three-week training camp in the Swiss resort town of Bad Ragaz gives Pizzi the chance to get stuck into some intense tactical and physical work with his players and decide which five players to leave out of his squad. He must whittle down his list down to 23 by June 4, which gives the players get two final chances to stake their claim for a seat on the plane in friendlies against Italy on May 28 and Peru on June 3. By the time they play Germany in Leverkusen on June 8, Pizzi will have named his party for the assignment in Russia.
Pizzi is clearly much nearer knowing who he will take as he has only made minor changes to the squad he named for the recent wins against Greece and Algeria.
Al-Ittihad goalkeeper Assaf Al-Qarni replaces his club teammate Fawaz Al-Qarni as the fourth stopper in the squad, as Pizzi looks settled on retaining Al-Ahli duo Yasser Al-Mosaileem and Mohammed Al-Owais in addition to Al-Hilal’s Abdullah Al-Mayouf. One of those four will fail to make the cut as no team takes four goalkeepers to the World Cup.
There were no changes in the backline where the former Chile boss is opting for harmony. Eight of the nine defenders called up ply their trade at Al-Hilal or Al-Ahli, while Al-Nassr’s Omar Hawsawi rounds off the selection. One defender might have to make way and Al-Hilal teammates Mohammad Jahfali and Ali Al-Bulayhi could well find themselves vying for one spot on the plane to Moscow.
Abdullah Otayf and Taisir Al-Jassim look to be firm favorites to make the starting XI in the base of midfield, while the third central spot is up for grabs. Hussein Al-Moqahwi has regularly featured in that position, but Salman Al-Faraj’s return from a long injury saw him start both friendlies in the Spain training camp. Abdulmalik Al-Khaibari could emerge as the more conservative midfield enforcer against stronger sides.
The center of the pitch is where the most intense battle of positions will take place. As many as three midfielders could be left behind come June 4. Ibrahim Ghaleb has already been left out and he may be joined by Al-Shabab duo Hattan Bahebri and Abdulla Al-Khaibari. One of Mohammad Kanno and Mohammed Al Kuwaikbi could be the last man to be dropped in two weeks’ time.
Up front, Harun Kamara, a surprise call-up for the recent friendlies, failed to retain his spot in the squad so Mohannad Assiri and Mohammed Al-Sahlawi will battle it out for the sole striker position.

Squad
Goalkeepers: Mohammed Al-Owais, Yasser Al-Mosaileem (Al-Ahli); Abdullah Al-Mayouf (Al-Hilal); Assaf Al-Qarni (Al-Ittihad)
Defenders: Motaz Hawsawi, Saeed Al-Muwallad, Mansour Al-Harbi (Al-Ahli); Osama Hawsawi, Mohammed Jahfali, Ali Al-Bulayhi, Mohammed Al-Burayk, Yasser Al-Shahrani (Al-Hilal); Omar Hawsawi (Al-Nassr).
Midfielders: Abdullah Al-Khaibari, Hattan Bahebri (Al-Shabab); Abdulmalik Al-Khaibari, Abdulla Otayf, Salman Al-Faraj, Mohammed Kanno, Nawaf Al-Abid (Al-Hilal); Taisir Al-Jassim, Hussein Al-Moqahwi (Al-Ahli); Mohammed Al-Kuwaikbi (Al-Ettifaq); Salem Al-Dawsari (Villarreal); Fahad Al-Muwallad (Levante); Yahya Al-Shehri (Leganes)
Forwards: Mohammed Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr); Mohannad Assiri (Al-Ahli)