It seemed pretty clear last Friday. The legendary former FC Bayern left back Paul Breitner put his hand in the pot at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon and pulled out FC Basel’s name, to FC Bayern’s glee.
Indeed, out of the six possible opponents (AC Milan, Basel, CSKA Moscow, Lyon, Marseille and Zenit), Basel looked to be the easiest on paper, a fact that Bayern’s director of football Christian Nerlinger didn’t hesitate to admit when he told reporters ”when you see the other opponents in the hat, then Basel were the one we wished for.”
But while fans of either clubs started planning their trips to watch their favourite team in action, bookmakers slashed out highly favourable qualification odds for Bayern Munich and Manchester United haters sniggered at the Red Devils’ potentially tricky match-up with Ajax Amsterdam in the UEFA Europa League, FIFA dropped down a big bomb.
It all started way back in February 2008, when Swiss club FC Sion illegally signed Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary from Al Ahly, which led to FC Sion getting a transfer ban for two transfer windows, starting from June 2009. Despite this ban, FC Sion signed six players and played them in this season’s UEFA Europa League qualifiers, by virtue of having won last season’s domestic cup.
In the qualifiers, FC Sion successfully eliminated Scottish giants Celtic, but their celebrations were cut short when UEFA decided to eliminate Sion from the competition and Celtic were called in to fill in the empty spot.
FIFA has now intervened and imposed a deadline on the Swiss FA to punish FC Sion, with the consequences of failing to do so being that they would be banned, meaning that neither would the Swiss national team be allowed to play any matches, nor would Swiss teams be allowed to play in European competitions. What this comes down to is that should the Swiss FA fail to obey FIFA’s orders by January 13th 2012, FC Basel would automatically be eliminated from the competition.
If FC Basel are to be eliminated, there would be two possible options for UEFA to do: hand FC Bayern a walkover and free passage to the Champions League quarterfinals, or more probable promote Manchester United back to the Champions League.
Rob Faulkner, UEFA’s Head of Communications said: “UEFA is confident that the Swiss FA will comply with the FIFA request before the deadline of January 13, 2012 and before the Champions League round-of-16 first leg match between Basel and Bayern Munich on February 22. Should this not be the case UEFA will review the situation nearer the time.”
In the meantime, Manchester United aren’t very hopeful of this mini-miracle for them, with a spokesman for Manchester United having been quoted as saying: “We are not holding our breath over this. It does seem a very long shot.”
A long shot, but not too long. If Basel are indeed banned from the competition, then UEFA would be under pressure to give Manchester United the same treatment they gave Celtic and allow them to play on as if they had managed to qualify, and then UEFA would need to see who will face Ajax Amsterdam, and that could possibly be FC Oţelul Galaţi, the club that lost all of their six matches in Group C of the Champions League. I’m sure Ajax Amsterdam wouldn’t mind at all.
Whether it be Basel or Manchester United, Bayern Munich will start as favourites. But of course, until now, we cannot know for sure what will happen, and who will play who.
Edit: Check out our follow-up article!
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