Chelsea quest for trophy leads to Basel in Europa League
Chelsea's quest for a trophy from its turbulent season leads to Switzerland on Thursday for a Europa League semifinal first-leg match against Basel.
Winning the second-tier competition would lift Chelsea into the top rank of European clubs, as just the fourth to complete the set of major UEFA titles.
Still, history is less important for the reigning European champion than having any trophy to display after falling short in seven other competitions this season.
"We have a lot of pressure playing in the Europa League because we obviously want to win it,'' goalkeeper Petr Cech said.
Basel will be cheered on by its most famous fan, Roger Federer, and has a taste for English opposition after eliminating Tottenham in the quarterfinals, and Manchester United in last season's Champions League.
"I'm really glad that they have found tickets for me and Marco Chiudinelli,'' Federer, who will attend the match with his Davis Cup teammate, told the Basler Zeitung daily. "We're looking forward to this game like little kids.''
Like Basel, Fenerbahce will make its European semifinal debut, at home first in Istanbul against Benfica.
All the last-four teams started the season in the Champions League, and would be first-time winners of the Europa League or its predecessor the UEFA Cup, which began in 1971.
Since UEFA launched club competitions in 1955, only Ajax, Bayern Munich and Juventus have won all three main titles: the European Cup, later rebranded the Champions League; the Cup-Winners' Cup, which ran from 1960-99; and the UEFA Cup or Europa League.
Chelsea can join that elite having won the Champions League last May and the Cup-Winners' Cup in 1971 and 1998.
Interim manager Rafa Benitez can reinforce his defense after a 2-2 draw at Liverpool on Sunday.
Defenders Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill have returned to the squad after nearly a month out through injury. Cole has recovered from a hamstring strain sustained in the home game against United on April 1. Cahill underwent a minor knee operation.
John Terry and Frank Lampard are also likely to start after being on the bench at Anfield.
Basel is without veteran forward Alex Frei, who retired since the matches against Tottenham to become sporting director at Swiss League club Lucerne.
Like Basel, Benfica leads its national league. The Portuguese club is aiming for its ninth European final.
Benfica is buoyed by scoring one of the season's best goals on Sunday, when Brazilian forward Lima finished a slick team move in a 2-0 win against Sporting Lisbon.
Central defender Luisao, the Brazilian veteran and team captain, has a thigh strain and will likely be replaced by Jardel.
Midfielders Enzo Perez and Andre Almeida are also unavailable through injury, prompting coach Jorge Jesus to recall out-of-favor Carlos Martins.
Fenerbahce is focusing on Europe after falling seven points behind traditional rival Galatasaray in the Turkish league.
"I am aware that it is difficult to close the gap with Galatasaray,'' Fenerbahce manager Aykut Kocaman said. "We now have to concentrate on the Benfica game.''