Schalke will be out to take another step towards duplicating the feat of the 1997 "Eurofighters" when they face Ajax in the first leg of their Europa League quarterfinal. However, their thoughts are also with Dortmund.
Although Borussia Dortmund and Schalke are staunch, sometimes bitter rivals - the attack on BVB's team bus also shocked the Royal Blues. This has led many to put their differences aside, at least for the moment. Many Schalke players, including the captain, Benedikt Höwedes, have used social media to express their solidarity with Dortmund at this difficult time. As the club itself put it: "In times like this, we stick together."
However, despite the attack in Dortmund: Schalke have a very important match to focus on. This Thursday Schalke are in Amsterdam to face Dutch league leaders Ajax in the first leg of their Europa League quarterfinal.
'Twinkle in their eyes'
Schalke midfielder Max Meyer must have been expressing the sentiments of the entire team when he said that: "Now that we've come so far, of course we want to reach the final and win the cup."
And 20 years after Schalke won the UEFA Cup, which was rebranded as the Europa League in 2009, many members of that legendary team, who were dubbed the "Eurofighters," believe the current edition of the team are capable for following in their footsteps
"When I look at them, I can see a twinkle in their eyes," said the captain of the 1997 team, Olaf Thon.
"I think Schalke are a little bit stronger than Ajax. And if they make it to the next round and they won't have to face Manchester United in the semifinal, so everything is possible," Marc Wilmots said.
"Back then, we were driven by a great spirit, and I think this time the spirit can be an important factor too, said Ingo Anderbrügge.
Ajax are on a roll
So far, Schalke's first season under coach Markus Weinzierl and manager Christian Heidel has been disappointing, so winning the Europa League is their last chance to redeem the campaign.
However, former Schalke defender Heiko Westermann, who now plays for Ajax, doesn't see his former club as the favorites. #
"It will be difficult for them, particularly when they have to play in our stadium," Westermann said.
Ajax are in excellent form, having won their last five games in the Europa League and going undefeated in their last 13 in the Dutch league.
"We are facing Ajax in their strongest phase of the season," Heidel conceded. For his part,Weinzierl said he was well aware that this would be "a very, very difficult challenge. But we would like to set a good basis for the second leg of the quarterfinal."
Will Huntelaar return to Ajax?
If they are to get a result in the Amsterdam Arena, it will be crucial for Schalke to get a grip on former Mönchengladbach player Amin Younes.
"In one-on-one situations, when there is little space, he is one of the best players we have in Germany," Heiko Westermann said. "I can't think of no-one better."
For Klaas-Jan Huntelaar it will be a special game: He played for Ajax from 2006 to 2009 and there has been speculation recently that he could be set to return to his former next summer.
"Anything is possible, Huntelaar said in an interview with the Dutch newspaper "De Telegraaf." He also noted that this would definitely "his last year for Schalke."
rk/pfd (dpa, SID)