Basel survive major scare to send Liverpool tumbling

St. Jakob-Park, Basel – 12/11/2002 – Group stage
Basel
Basel
Rossi 2 Giménez 22 Atouba 29
3 - 3
Liverpool
  • Murphy 61
  • Šmicer 64
  • Owen 85
Liverpool
End-to-end drama

"If the game had lasted five more minutes Basel would have lost." Gérard Houllier

2002/03

• RC Deportivo La Coruña beat FC Bayern München on Matchday 1 to end the Bavarian giants' 29-game unbeaten home run in the competition, stretching back to December 1997 and a 1-0 loss to IFK Göteborg.

• There were a record 44 draws in 2002/03, with three games ending 3-3 on Matchday 6. The highlight saw Liverpool FC come from 3-0 down at half-time to hold FC Basel 1893 – it would not be the last time.

• Greek side AEK Athens FC went though the first group stage unbeaten but failed to progress after drawing all six of their games against Real Madrid CF, AS Roma and Belgian titleholders KRC Genk.

FC Basel 1893 coach Christian Gross described this as "the game of games" in the pre-match press conference – it did not fail to deliver.

For Swiss double winners Basel the hard work was so nearly done even before the visit of Liverpool FC but the point the UEFA Champions League debutants needed to guarantee progress was no foregone conclusion against a side with such pedigree – even after they went 3-0 up.

Gérard Houllier's side, needing a win to reach the second group stage, always faced an uphill struggle but it soon became a mountainous task. Indeed, the gradient had become steeper after barely 90 seconds when Hakan Yakin sprung a creaky offside trap and squared for Julio Hernán Rossi to tap in. Emile Heskey struck the bar – via Pascal Zuberbühler's fingertips – soon after, but the momentum was evidently with Basel.

It was little surprise when, with Yakin at the heart of another crisp move, Christian Giménez raced clear midway through the first half and slotted past Jerzy Dudek. Two became three and mission improbable, surely, mission impossible, seven minutes later, Dudek parrying a free-kick straight to Thimothée Atouba, who stabbed in.

Liverpool's backs had gone from being against the wall to all but nailed to it. With an hour gone Basel were still three to the good, still looking menacing and all but in the next round. Danny Murphy's neatly side-footed finish from the edge of the penalty area may have removed any complacency, it seemed destined to be too little too late.

The number of nails being bitten at St Jakob-Park rocketed just three minutes later, though, when Milan Baroš' outrageous flick, through luck or design, laid on Vladimir Šmicer for a second. Basel were desperately plugging their leaking dam but, despite suffering a nervy final five minutes following Michael Owen's penalty, had done enough.

Club stalwart Roy Evans once claimed that "Liverpool without European football is like a banquet without wine". They still had the consolation of UEFA Cup football, yet there was little doubt Basel had deservedly upset the natural order – albeit not without a fright.

Star players

  • Hakan Yakin

    A veteran of four major international final tournaments, scoring three goals on home soil at UEFA EURO 2008, Swiss international Yakin enjoyed great success with FC Basel 1893. The crafty playmaker had spells with VfB Stuttgart, Galatasaray AŞ and Qatari outfit Al Gharafa before returning to Switzerland in 2009. He joined FC Luzern, where he would be coached by brother Murat.

  • Šmicer

    A member of the Czech Republic side that reached the final of EURO '96, Šmicer first caught the eye at SK Slavia Praha. He moved to Liverpool FC in 1999 after a spell at RC Lens and won the FA Cup and UEFA Cup in 2001. A tricky, versatile forward, he etched his name into Anfield folklore by coming off the bench and scoring in the 2005 UEFA Champions League final against AC Milan.

  • Owen

    Blessed with electrifying pace, Owen was 18 when he announced himself with his sensational solo goal against Argentina at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. He scored 118 goals in 216 Premier League games for the Reds – and won the 2001 FA Cup – before a season at Real Madrid CF. Injuries began to take their toll during subsequent spells with Newcastle United FC and Manchester United FC.

What happened next?

• FC Basel 1893 missed out on qualification from the second group stage despite finishing level on points with second-placed Juventus, edged out courtesy of head-to-head goal difference.

• Liverpool defeated AJ Auxerre 3-0 on aggregate in the UEFA Cup round of 16 but exited at the quarter-final stage following a 3-1 overall reverse by Scottish titleholders Celtic FC.

• The Reds were back in the UEFA Cup the following season after finishing fifth in the Premier League. They at least had the consolation of beating Manchester United FC in the League Cup final.

• Hakan Yakin, instrumental in Liverpool's early exit, joined French side Paris Saint-Germain FC in July 2003 having scored 43 goals in 131 league appearances for hometown club Basel.

• Rafael Benítez replaced Gérard Houllier at Anfield in summer 2004, winning the UEFA Champions League in his first season with a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over AC Milan.

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