Crusaders take on Basel in the second leg of their Europa Conference League second round qualifying clash on Thursday.
The Northern Irish outfit will need to overturn a 2-0 deficit suffered in Switzerland last week.
Crusaders, who finished fourth in the Northern Irish Premiership last season, may have sensed a real opportunity to cause a major upset against their more illustrious opponents when Taulant Xhaka was sent off in only the 33rd minute.
However, Dan Ndoye scored only five minutes later, before Hungary striker Adam Szalai superbly diverted an inswinging corner past goalkeeper Jonathan Tuffey into the far corner to double the Swiss Super League runners-up’s lead after the break.
The hosts understandably seemed content to retain possession and hold onto their two-goal advantage given the predicament Xhaka’s hot-headedness had put them in, with Crusaders failing to lay a glove on their opponents despite their superiority in terms of numbers.
Manager Stephen Baxter will hope that home advantage can help Crusaders towards advancing beyond the qualification rounds of a European competition for the first time since losing to another Swiss outfit Servette in the first round of the 1993-94 UEFA Cup, but it seems an incredibly tall order given the nature of the first leg.
Indeed, Basel boss Alexander Frei, who scored 42 goals in 84 caps for Switzerland during a hugely successful playing career, will be demanding his players avoid complacency and keep 11 players on the field.
Equally, he would have been impressed with his side’s resilience and quality demonstrated in adversity during the first leg, with the foundations firmly laid for getting the job done away from home on Thursday.
The difference in expectations and resources of these opponents should not be underestimated. Basel’s dominance in Switzerland may have ended in recent years, but this is still a club which has reached the last-16 of the Champions League and the quarter-finals of the Europa League within the last five years.
Indeed, after also exiting at the last-16 stage of the inaugural Europa Conference League last season, falling short against relative minnows like Crusaders would be considered nothing short of a disaster as they look towards building another successful European campaign.
Crusaders Europa Conference League form:
Basel Europa Conference League form:
Basel form (all competitions):
We say: Crusaders 0-2 Basel
This should be another comfortable victory for Basel, who will hope to keep 11 men on the pitch this time around.
Frei is unlikely to demand too much exertion from his players providing they get an early goal to kill off the tie, so do not expect them to rack up the goals unless Crusaders throw the towel in.