Gross collects his dream ticket to take on Barcelona
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Tuesday 23 February 2010
Christian Gross might just have found his dream ticket. Thirteen years after launching his ill-fated spell at Tottenham by brandishing a tube pass and talking of the great things he aimed to achieve at White Hart Lane, the Swiss will send his revitalised Stuttgart side out to take on Barcelona, the continent's best, in the last 16 of the Champions League. Spurs, meanwhile, are preparing for an FA Cup replay against Bolton.
In the wake of his 10-month stay in London, Gross retreated home to rebuild his battered reputation with a rewarding decade in charge of Basle and when Stuttgart needed a fire-fighter to save their season from going up in flames last December they beckoned him frantically over the border.
Under Markus Babbel, Stuttgart had struggled in the Bundesliga and when they slipped into the bottom three in December the former Liverpool defender was dismissed – despite having steered the club to third, and into the Champions League, in his debut season.
Six wins in eight games since Gross's arrival have relieved the pressure and a 5-1 victory at Cologne sends them into the first leg against the holders on a high.
"We have got nothing to lose," claimed Gross, who will include Cacau up front following his two goals at the weekend. The striker, born in Brazil, has qualified to play for Germany and has ambitions of making the World Cup finals.
Barça recovered from their first league defeat of the season by cantering past Racing Santander 4-0 on Saturday and there is one player in the home ranks all too well aware of the task that awaits in the Mercedes Benz Arena.
"Honestly, it's the only team I didn't want to play against. It's the best team in the world," said Aleksandr Hleb, who is on loan from the Spanish champions. "I know it, I was there. It may be good for the fans but bad for our goal to advance to the next round."
The match promises something of an Arsenal reunion with Hleb's former Emirates team-mate Jens Lehmann in goal for Stuttgart and Thierry Henry, after scoring his first goal since early December at the weekend, set to lead the visitors' attack.
Henry has struggled through a troubled campaign since his controversial handball in the World Cup play-off against Ireland in November. He has managed only three goals in 18 games, a loss of direction that led to him being dropped for the last three games. But with Zlatan Ibrahimovic struggling with an ankle injury, Pep Guardiola is ready to recall the Frenchman.
"I hope his goal will give him a lift," said Guardiola, the Barça coach. "The team needs much more of him and I expect more from him."
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