Thursday, August 25, 2011

Super Soaraway Thun

Like a bar of Toblerone that’s past its sell-by date at the back of the cupboard, FC Thun are a Swiss entity that have been overlooked for a very long time. Despite being around for well over a hundred years, the club from the Bernese Alps have failed to pull up too many trees in their time, but this season they enter the Europa League in a rare moment of glory that their fans have desperately longed for.


Located 30km south of Berne, Thun is a town of around 42,000 inhabitants. Few, if any, will look upon their local football team as anything other than minnows in the grand scheme of Swiss football. For decades, FC Thun languished in the lower tiers of the Swiss game without any fear of troubling the history book writers.

Come the 1950s, things started to look rosier however. A single season in the top division was followed in 1955 by an appearance in the Swiss Cup final, their only appearance to date. A 3-1 defeat to one of the big Swiss clubs of the era, La Chaux-de-Fonds, denied them an early addition to the trophy cabinet and in so doing signalled the start of another long period back in the Swiss football doldrums.

It was only in 1997 that Thun made the breakthrough that brought about their recent place in the sun, and it came two years after the appointment of former Swiss national team defender Andy Egli as coach. Earning promotion to the Regionalliga B (2nd tier) was only the entree as it turned out. In 2002, promotion was earned again, this time under the leadership of former Thun player Hanspeter Latour. A third-place finish was good enough to get Thun back in the Swiss Super League again, but the fun didn’t end there.

In 2004-05, a near miracle happened when they miraculously finished runners-up to FC Basel – an achievement rewarded with a place in the following season’s Champions League. Here, too, they weren’t happy to rest on their laurels, first defeating Dynamo Kiev 3-2 on aggregate in the 2nd Qualifying Round before trouncing Malmo 4-0 on aggregate in the round after that. Unfortunately their marauding run came to an end in the Group Stage where Arsenal, Sparta Prague and Ajax proved too tough to overcome.

Since then, Thun have struggled to retain their place in the top flight and were relegated to the Swiss Challenge League at the end of the 2007/08 campaign. It was a bad season for more than just football reasons when twelve players at the club were questioned by police on suspicion of having sexual relations with a 15-year-old girl. Though the police said that the girl in question had consented throughout, the crime was still punishable under Swiss law. Five players were ultimately fined for their indiscretion.

The scandal was serious enough to throw Thun into something of a tailspin and the club remained in the second division until they won the title in 2009/10. Last season was their first back in the Swiss Super League and a remarkable fifth-placed finish was rewarded with a place in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League in 2010/11 where they'll begin life at a new home, the 10,000 capacity Thun Arena.

Team Spotlight

Thun’s coach is Bernard Challandes, something of a journeyman coach who managed the Swiss Under-21 side between 2001 and 2007. Among the many Swiss clubs he’s been in charge of are the aforementioned La-Chaux-de-Fonds (1985-87), Young Boys (1994-95), Servette (1995), Zurich (2007-10), Neuchatel Xamax (2011) and Sion (2011). He joined Thun in June 2011.

Current Form

Thun are on sparkling form at the moment. Since the start of the season, they’ve played 11 games and have lost only one so far - the first leg of their Europa League tie against Stoke.

In the Swiss Super League, they’re on top of the table after six games with 14 points, two ahead of Luzern (with whom they shared a goalless draw at the end of July). On Sunday they inflicted ta first league defeat of the season on Young Boys and in the match before that, they added more pain to an already poor start for Lausanne Sports, winning 5-2 at home.

Top scorer for Thun this season is midfielder Stephan Andrist with four (one of those coming at the weekend against Young Boys). Christian Schneuwly and Mauro Lustrinelli have three goals each.

The Road to Bucharest

Thun left it late to win their Second Qualifying Round match in this year's Europa League where their campaign started. The first leg away to Albanian side Vllaznia Shkoder finished goalless, but the second leg saw Thun's opponents take an early lead which wasn't equalised until the 89th minute through Milaim Ramer. A miraculous winning goal came two minutes into injury time thanks to Benjamin Lüthi.

If Thun thought that was difficult, the following round saw them pitched up against Palermo. The Swiss side led twice against the Italians in the first leg but had to settle for a 2-2 draw. In the second leg the tie looked to be heading Palermo’s way wen Pablo Gonzalez scored after 49 minutes, but Dario Lezcano equalised 16 minutes later to hold on for an unlikely away goals victory, 3-3 on aggregate.

Finally to the Play Off Round where Thun played host to Stoke City last week in the first leg of the tie. Tony Pulis’ men had the novelty of playing on Thun’s artificial playing surface and undoubtedly found it a little tricky to play on despite Danny Pugh giving his side a 19th-minute lead.

Thun, for their part, seemed a little overawed by the magnitude of the occasion and offered little in the first half. After the interval, however, they appeared much more willing to attack and came close to scoring through Luthi and Christian Schneuwly.

In the end, Thun were lucky to keep the scoreline to just 1-0 when goalkeeper David Da Costa was sent off for bringing down Jon Walters two minutes into injury time. With all substitutes used, defender Nicolas Schindelholz replaced Da Costa between the sticks and pulled off a wonderful save to deny Walters from making it 2-0 to Stoke. Ultimately Thun held on to the one-goal deficit and in so doing have given themselves half a chance of winning the tie at the Britannia Stadium in the second leg.

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