FC Zurich will carry the unexpected tag of favorite when the team hosts Marseille in the Champions League on Wednesday.
The Swiss side’s surprise 1-0 victory at AC Milan in the second round of matches has altered the dynamics of a group in which it is pitted against three former European champions and in which it began as the clear underdog for qualification for the knockout phase.
Zurich also gave Real Madrid a fright in its Group C opener before succumbing to late goals in a 5-2 defeat, and can now push 1993 champion Marseille – which lost at home to Milan and in Madrid – to the brink of elimination with victory at its Letzigrund stadium.
“Marseille is under big pressure,” said Zurich captain Hannu Tihinen, who scored his team’s goal at the San Siro. “They really don’t want to lose a third time.”
Only a win in Switzerland will give coach Didier Deschamps’s team some hope of progressing to the round of 16.
“We know that there is no room left for mistake,” midfielder Mathieu Valbuena said.
Striker Fernando Morientes believes Zurich’s win in Milan has given the French team hope.
“If Milan had beaten Zurich, Madrid and Milan would have two victories each and it would be a lot more difficult,” he said. “The way things stand, we have a chance of doing something.”
Marseille has lost six straight Champions League matches on the road, and will surely show more adventure than when employing a five-man defense in its 3-0 defeat to Real.
Deschamps has called up 20 players, including playmaker Lucho Gonzalez and defender Gabriel Heinze, who were rested in a 3-0 league win at Nancy last Saturday that ended a three-match losing streak.
“I’m especially pleased with the attitude of my players,” Deschamps said. “They gave themselves to their teammates. This is something that has been lacking a little lately. To continue in a positive way this season, we must keep these values.”
Defender Souleymane Diawara is suspended after being shown a red card in Madrid.
Zurich’s resources have been stretched as the team looks to maintain its form in Europe and at home. It stands fifth in the 10-team Swiss top division, already trailing leader Young Boys by 16 points.
“The Champions League should be no excuse,” Tihinen said. “It should be a bonus for small teams like Zurich. The foundation for us is still the national title.”
Coach Bernard Challandes must cope without forward Eric Hassli, who scored 17 goals in Zurich’s title-winning season. The 28-year-old Frenchman fractured his left shinbone in training and is sidelined until March.
Zurich warmed up for Wednesday’s sold-out match by beating second-tier club Locarno 7-0 in a Swiss Cup tie on Saturday.