| Genk’s Seyfo Soley (left) and Didier Zokora run beside a head-over-heels Wesley Sonck, while celebrating a goal against Real Madrid at the Fenix Stadium in Genk Tuesday. (Reuters)
London: Basel thrillingly became the first Swiss side to reach the Champions League second phase Tuesday, while Inter Milan and AS Roma ensured that four Italian teams qualified for the next stage for the first time.
Basel achieved the draw they needed against Liverpool to qualify from Group B, but were hanging on desperately at St Jakob Park after the English side fought back from 0-3 down at halftime to draw 3-3 in the game of the night.
Inter finished top of Group D after winning 2-1 at Ajax Amsterdam, who nonetheless progressed as Olympique Lyon drew their match against Rosenborg Trondheim 1-1.
Roma also went through in Group C after a 1-1 draw with Greek visitors AEK Athens. They and Inter joined fellow Italian clubs AC Milan and Juventus, who have already qualified.
With Valencia already assured of top spot — a position they confirmed by beating Spartak Moscow 3-0 in Spain Tuesday — all the attention in Group B was on Basel’s game against Liverpool.
The English side, needing a win to advance, went into the match as favourites but within 29 minutes found themselves 0-3 down, thanks to goals by Argentine duo Julio Hernan Rossi and Christian Gimenez and a third by Timothee Atouba.
Each was crafted by the outstanding Hakan Yakin but Christian Gross’ side almost threw away qualification as Liverpool surged back with goals by Danny Murphy, Vladimir Smicer and Michael Owen in the second half.
The English Premier League leaders had left themselves just too much to do, though, and they finished third in the group, a point behind Basel, and with only a place in the Uefa Cup third round as consolation.
“Even when Liverpool fought back we did not doubt ourselves,” said Gross, formerly manager of another English side, Tottenham Hotspur.
The only blight on a great night for the Swiss was the arrest of several dozen supporters in scuffles both before and after the game.
Local newspapers paid tribute to Basel after the unthinkable was achieved against four-times European champions Liverpool.
“Insanity” was how Swiss daily Blick described the events before adding: “Basel threw the legendary Liverpool out of the Champions League — let Switzerland rejoice.
“Now opponents like Real Madrid wait for Basel.”
Daily Tages Anzeiger branded the result “perfection” and added that Basel’s performance had “made dreams come true”. “I cannot find the words to describe the match,” Swiss national coach Koebi Kuhn was quoted as saying in Tages Anzeiger. “It will not be forgotten for a long time.”
Group D was wide open going into Tuesday’s game, but Argentine striker Hernan Crespo’s two goals ensured Inter made no mistake in Amsterdam. The four-time former winners from The Netherlands still pipped Lyon for second place on a better head-to-head record after the French team failed to beat Rosenborg in Norway.
In Group C, holders Real Madrid, who had already qualified, were fortunate to sneak top spot and a seeded berth in Friday’s draw ahead of Roma.
Real drew 1-1 away to Belgian side Genk, for whom Belgium striker Wesley Sonck cancelled out Tote’s opener for the nine-times European champions.
Real finished on nine points, the same tally as Roma but ahead of the Italians on head-to-head record. Roma would have topped the group if they had not conceded a last-minute equaliser at home to AEK Athens following Marco Delvecchio’s first-half opener.
AEK took the UEFA Cup spot and that was also the main issue at stake in Group A, with Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund already qualified.
AJ Auxerre of France claimed third place when Benjani Mwaruwari’s 76th-minute goal gave them a 1-0 victory over Dortmund, who consequently lost the group winners’ spot after Arsenal’s goalless draw at home to PSV.
It was a missed opportunity for PSV, who had started the night a point ahead of Auxerre and played for 55 minutes at Highbury against 10 men after Arsenal had midfielder Kolo Toure sent off.
The draw for the second group phase takes place at Uefa headquarters in Switzerland Friday.