Basel and Graz win tight races
The Swiss Super League boasts a proud tradition of dramatic finales, and 2010/11 was no exception. From the 21st round of matches onwards, the contest developed into a neck-and-neck race between Basel and FC Zurich, before the destination of the trophy was finally settled on the last day.
The pattern was similar in neighbouring Austria, as Strum Graz and Austria Vienna broke clear in the race to the line. Here, too, there was still everything to play for right up to the final matchday. FIFA.com reviews the campaign in the Alpine republics.
Joy unconfined in Basel
Basel ended the campaign requiring a win in front of their home crowd to seal a 14th domestic crown. "It all comes down to this,” coach Thorsten Fink said. "We have to prove to our sell-out crowd that we really want the title. It's a situation I’m really looking forward to." Fink’s men went out and demonstrated all the desire the coach had demanded. Alexander Frei, who would finish as the league’s top scorer on 27 goals, handed Basel the lead as they went on to beat Lucerne 3-0. That secured both the title and a place in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.
Fink added post-match: "You have to be up for it when it really matters. We’re through to the Champions League, we don’t have to qualify, and that’s very special. It’s extremely important we’re in that competition, both for this football club and for Switzerland.
"Ending up as champions again is certainly special. You always have to set priorities, and my priority was the league. I knew we’d never stay in contention in three competitions this season, but we’re champions and that’s the most important thing."
For every winner there has to be a loser, of course, and although FC Zurich duly beat Thun 1-0 on the last day, it was not enough to wrest the title from Basel’s grasp. FCZ coach Urs Fischer reflected: "Our supporters are satisfied, even though at the end of the day we’ve only come second. Basel were better, and we have to acknowledge that. If you’re top of the league at the end, you deserve to be champions."
Graz show nerves of steel
Over in Austria, Sturm Graz claimed the third national title in their history. Franco Foda’s side went into the final match of the campaign with a two-point advantage over Austria Vienna, and beat Wacker Innsbruck 2-1 to banish any lingering doubts. Salzburg, third going into the final round of matches, rendered all the pre-match calculations academic by beating Austria 4-2 in any case.
Foda said: "Winning the cup last year and then the league this year is a dream come true. We can all be delighted. It was important not to get distracted during the run-in. I’m proud of my players, because they’ve been terrific over the last few weeks."
There was at least one consolation prize for Austria Vienna, as Roland Linz topped the league scoring chart on 21 goals, two ahead of Graz marksman Roman Kienast.
Grasshoppers flit clear of trouble
In Switzerland, the UEFA Europa League spots went to Young Boys (third qualifying round) and Sion (second qualifying round). Lucerne, who blazed an unlikely trail at the top of the standings for a lengthy spell at the start of the season, ended up down in sixth. Back in October 2010, FIFA.com asked then coach Rolf Fringer to name his target for the campaign: "As before, our goal is mid-table safety, although obviously, we have one eye on a Europa League place," he stated. However, following a poor run of just 11 points from 13 matches, Fringer was dismissed in early May.
Matters were even less satisfactory for the nation’s most successful club, Grasshoppers, who ultimately finished seventh but spent a large part of the campaign flirting with relegation. However, a crucial 3-1 victory in the derby against FCZ on 15 May saw Grasshoppers secure their top-flight status with two games to spare.
Innsbruck on the up
In Austria, dethroned champions Red Bull Salzburg finished with a flourish after a relatively below-par campaign. A fourth consecutive away win, the last-day showdown away to Austria Vienna, meant Salzburg leapfrogged their opponents and claimed the runners-up spot. Both clubs now start in the second qualifying round for the Europa League.
Wacker Innsbruck finished their first season back in the Austrian Bundesliga in a convincing sixth place. The Tyrolean outfit sprang a number of surprises in the course of the 36-match campaign and were duly no pushover for Graz in the final match of the season.
Wacker coach Walter Kogler told FIFA.com. "Our pre-season target was to see genuine development in the team. Once we were promoted, our aim was simply to give a decent account of ourselves in the league. Our ultimate goal is to bring the team on to the extent that we can mix it at the top in Austria again over the next few years. That remains our target.
"The fact we’re among the leading group at the moment is very welcome. It shows the team’s come on a very long way in a relatively short space of time, but the process is by no means finished yet." The foundations for future success certainly appear to be in place.
The dreaded drop zone
The battle to avoid relegation from the Swiss Super League was a tense and dramatic three-way affair. Bellinzona went into the last day on 29 points, still with the chance of catching St. Gallen and Xamax Neuchatel on 31. They did it too, beating Grasshoppers 2-0 to secure ninth spot and a play-off with the second division runners-up. Xamax saved their skins with a goalless draw away to Sion, but St. Gallen fell 4-2 to Young Boys and returned to the Challenge League after a two-season sojourn among the elite.
"Just look at the players’ faces right now," lamented St. Gallen director of sport Heinz Peischl. "There’s no need for words, it’s obvious what’s just happened. It's horrendous for us, no question about that, but it’s reality. I’m deeply disappointed. We’ve put in a huge amount of effort trying to avoid exactly this situation. We had high hopes but it’s all crumbled today."
In the play-off, Bellinzona now face 17-time champions Servette tomorrow and on Tuesday. Second-tier champions Lausanne return to the top flight after a nine-year absence.
The Austrian season ended dismally for LASK Linz, as coach Walter Schachner and his team fell forlornly out of the Bundesliga. The bottom club conceded 75 goals and always looked out of their depth at the highest level, finishing with 22 goals for and a meagre 19 points. Trenkwalder Admira earned the right to replace Linz in the Bundesliga.