I’ve seen FC Thun play once. A 1-0 win against Hamburg in the 3rd round of the 2005/2006 UEFA Cup. All I can say about Switzerland is, well, it’s cold. Freezing cold. I’ve only been to four ground that have been colder, and they’re all on the North Sea. But this isn’t the same team, after suffering relegation in 2007/2008, and subsequently gaining promotion 2 years later, there is barely a recognisable face in the team. In fact, their only two vaguely famous ex stars are Alexander Frei, formerly of Borussia Dortmund, and Jose Goncalves, famous for his four years in Scotland at Heart of Midlothian.
The club is most famous for the fact they gave Arsenal scares both home and away in the 2004/2005 Champions League group stage, losing narrowly on both occasions – 1-0 and 2-1. Thun beat both Vllaznia Shkodër of Albania and, perhaps more impressively, US Palermo – 8th in Italy and coming runners up to Inter Milan in the Coppa Italian. Currently 2nd in the Swiss Super League after four games, Stoke’s main threats will come from striker Mauro Lustrinelli and midfielders Christian Schneuwly and Stephan Andrist
From the available stats, it would seem they aren’t the best in front of goal, scoring 5 from their 4 games, but only conceding 1. However, with Switzerland being 13 places below England in the UEFA coefficient rankings, and Thun being the lowest placed team to qualify – you would think Stoke wouldn’t have a problem.
But they can’t be the same Stoke they were last season. Thun managed to outwit Palermo with two draws, going through on away goals. Stoke need to win, and need to score goals – only one of which they know how to do properly. This is a game where the skill of Etherington and Pennant needs to come to the forefront, where Kenwyne Jones has to up his game and the back four needs to be as adventurous as Robert Huth was all last season. The game is there for Stoke to take – this isn’t the time for Pulis to be cautious.
Will Stoke be able to break down the Stoke of Switzerland? Or will this first European adventure since 1974 end as soon as it has begun? While Thun are no Ajax, don’t take the tie for granted – I’ve been the victim of that mentality many times, FBK Kaunas and Viktoria Zizkov will forever haunt my nightmares.