Young Boys vs. Dinamo Zagreb
UEFA Champions League
August 22nd | August 28th
Stade de Suisse | Stadion Maksimir
Bern | Zagreb
Euphoric. There aren’t many better words that can be used to describe YB’s success last season in Switzerland. They were swashbuckling at times as they claimed their first Swiss title since 1986 and managed to dethrone perennial champions FC Basel as if they were a nuisance and not the all-conquering side that had claimed their eighth successive championship one year earlier. The biggest testament to YB is that nobody really saw it coming either and with Basel faltering just a little over these last few months, it is YB that is the main flag-bearer for Swiss football in Europe. How times have changed.
One of the perks of that title victory of course, is qualification for Europe’s premier competition and because of their first-place finish and Switzerland’s high coefficient, YB enter directly into the play-off round, something they have never done before. It cut out difficult qualifiers to places like Lviv and Istanbul in years past and gives YB the task of winning one tie and reaching the Group Stage for the first time ever. It sounds simple but this is now YB’s fourth attempt at qualification and to be quite honest, they haven’t really come close.
Impressive performances vs. Fenerbahce, Dynamo Kiev & Shakhtar have got YB to this stage in 2010, 2016 and 2017 and while they were simply outgunned by Tottenham and Gladbach, they had a real chance vs. CSKA last year and couldn’t get themselves over the line, shooting themselves in the foot in the process. This year, however, this side is better equipped than ever before. This team has not been disrupted too much by the transfer window and continues to be a strong unit. A new manager is in charge, yes, but they have a squad that knows each other very well and plays together so impressively, as seen last season.
It is fair to say Dinamo Zagreb are well equipped also but then they usually are for these games. This is not their first rodeo when it comes to qualifying and they have reached the Group Stage plenty of times before. They impressively dispatched Astana & Hapoel Beer Sheva, two sides in the Play-off Round in the last two seasons, and will be looking to do the same against YB. So, while this is not a mis-match like YB have faced before with their English and German opposition, this is still a very difficult game against a side that will match up to YB in every department. The fact that the second leg is in Zagreb is not particularly helpful either.
That said, there is no reason why YB can’t reach the next round. They have proven themselves as a good team, they have claimed European scalps in the past and many would argue that Shakhtar posed more of a threat than this Zagreb side will over two legs. The disappointment of 12 months ago vs. CSKA when an own goal sent them spiralling out of the competition should be motivation as they step out onto the pitch at the Stade de Suisse on Wednesday.
They have experienced European players in this squad like Hoarau and Sulejmani and goals across the team. Zagreb will pose the YB defence many questions and there is uncertainty just how much it will stand up to the test but the midfield and strikeforce have enough firepower to gain something tangible to take over to Croatia.
The silver lining is that even failure presents YB with a place in the UEFA Europa League Group Stages but this team has been there and done that. It is about time they achieved a place in the Champions League and while it may be unusual to think of YB in with those elite teams, it is up to them to make sure that it becomes the norm, just like it wasn’t surprising to see Basel in there over the years.
Good luck, YB!
Stade de Suisse