Tottenham Hotspur’s debut season in the Champions League has been a roller coaster ride so far. They played some eye catching football to win the hearts of millions of football fans all over the world. ‘White Hart Lane’ has stood firm like a fortress for them in the last two seasons with opponents struggling to score goals against a spirited Spurs side. Only Manchester United managed to score more than one goal (way back in September 2009) in a match at a venue opponents derisively referred to as ‘3 Point Lane’. The arrival of Harry Redknapp changed their fortunes massively; the team has played with newfound confidence and demolished European giants like Inter Milan, AC Milan and Werder Bremen.
Spurs began their Champions League campaign with a qualifying round first leg test on a plastic pitch in Switzerland. Their opponents were no pushovers – the quirkily named Young Boys proved to the world that their name was a misnomer when they defeated Turkish giants Fenerbahçe in their previous round. Things proved ominous for the Spurs as the score line read 3-0 at the 28th minute. The Londoners were struggling on a difficult Berne surface when Redknapp decided to risk his midfield mainstay Tom Huddlesotne after half an hour. That move paid dividends almost immediately as they started to dominate midfield and then create problems for the Swiss outfit. At the final whistle the score was 3-2 and their remarkable ‘never say die attitude’ was a huge confidence booster for all the Lilywhites. They could afford to hold their heads high on the way home after their remarkable recovery which kept them in the hunt. Scenes were entirely different at WHL as Spurs gave a hint to what was in the store with a 4-0 thumping of the hapless Swiss outfit. Spurs kept a high line of defense and attacked from the word go; their determination to restrict their opponents in their own half was all too evident. Peter Crouch and Gareth Bale shared the limelight with a hat-trick and a number of assists respectively.
Tottenham found themselves in one of the toughest groups in the UEFA Champions League when they had to contend with current European and Italian champions Internazionale, Dutch champions FC Twente and German powerhouse Werder Bremen. Many football pundits predicted an early exit from European stage after 50 long years of oblivion. Their group stage campaign began in style when Spurs took a 2-0 lead against a strong Bremen side within 20 minutes and then went on to dominate the first half. But the match ended in complete contrast to how it began as the Spurs were left clinging on for a well deserved draw – something they just about managed.
The White Hart Lane atmosphere was in full swing on that auspicious day when the physical Dutch champs visited. They never allowed the traditionally attack-oriented Spurs to settle down but deadline day signing Van der Vaart had other plans; a hero cum villain role in which he missed a penalty, opened the scoring and then got his second yellow to complete an action packed display for the genius. Ten-man Spurs held their nerves and held on to Lady Luck, as their opposition failed to utilize their numerical advantage. At the end of the day the Spurs ran out deserved winners with a massive 4-1 score line.
Tottenham visited the world famous San Siro to face reigning champions Inter with an attack minded line-up as usual. That looked like it would blow up in their faces when a nightmarish start ensured Inter went up 3-0 within 15 minutes; custodian Gomes went for an early bath after seeing red and soon playmaker Modric was replaced by Cudicini to cover the post. It was 4-0 at halftime and the Lilywhites were truly staring down the barrel against the giants. The Welsh Wizard Gareth Bale produced one of those legendary displays in the second half and the world famous Inter defense was torn apart by the pace and skill of the winger. On a magical night, Bale ran rings round the defense and his finishing complimented his darting 50 yard runs. He showed great composure and technique when finishing off those moves which showed all signs of him being a future world Icon. His second half hat-trick was the talking point in a 4-3 defeat and despite the result this match will be fondly remembered by the Yid army for a very long time.
Gareth Bale produced another master-class to torture the defending champions when they visited Lane. This match rekindled golden memories of the ‘glory nights’ in North London and only heaped misery on the returning Rafa Benitez. Van der Vaart continued his scoring spree at Lane, but it was the Welsh Wizard again with his power, pace and his end-product that troubled the world famous Maicon, Zanetti and co. This was the night Spurs signaled their return to the European elites.
Spurs completed their fairytale by topping their group with the many giants. When Bremen visited Lane, the Spurs were inspired by the come-back win against arch rivals Arsenal and they continued their good form. An impressive 3-0 win followed in which fleet footed Croatian Luka Modric was at his creative best and the team showed some glimpses of ‘total football’. No one even noticed that Van Der Vaart was missing from the line-up. Spurs qualified for the knock out stages with a game to spare and North London was in a festive mood.
The Dutch trip was next and Harry and boys were going there to fight for the top spot in a dead group which was effectively done and dusted by now. In a high scoring thriller momentum shifted from one end to other through-out, a brace from Defoe helped Spurs on its way in a see-saw battle and the match ended 3-3. Spurs finished on top of the group and in that process they scored the highest number of goals in the Champions League.
By finishing on top of the group they avoided the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich but Italian Giants AC Milan were waiting for them. Spurs were without an away win in the biggest stage but they had scored 10 goals on the road already and their home record was so impressive that almost all the teams feared visiting WHL now. Key players Huddlestone and King were unfit and Spurs suffered another major blow when Gareth Bale was ruled out of the Milan trip. Van der Vaart and Modric were also considered unlikely to make their journey to Milan but managed to make the team sheet anyway. The Spurs dominated AC Milan in the first half in which Sandro and Palacios bossed the midfield. Considering the fact that both of them were deputizing for regulars showed the bench strength of this squad. Lennon and Pienaar occupied the wings and caused all sorts of trouble for Milanistas. Van der Vaart produced another fine performance and Crouch won almost everything in the air. Spurs moved the ball around and Rossoneri were left chasing shadows in the first half, and none of them broke the deadlock. The second half saw a much better performance from the home team. Gomes produced two world class saves which kept the Spurs in the game. Milan soon lost their temper as their raucous fan support began to voice their displeasure. There was a rash challenge from Flamini which ended Corluka’s stay in the middle and brought Woody back into action after a long gap. Combative midfielder Gattuso was out of control and was almost begging to be sent off for every new offence. Even in the most provocative atmosphere, the Lilywhites kept their cool and stuck to their game plan. Spurs brought in Modric and Kranjcar to inject some fresh air into their attack. The moment of the game arrived during the 80th minute when Aaron Lennon produced an amazing run in which he beat the Milan defense and squared the ball to Crouch to earn a well deserved lead. It was a well deserved goal for the visiting side for their disciplined performance at the back lead by Dawson, Gallas and Asou-Ekotto. There was more drama during the ending minutes as Ibrahimovic’s goal was rightly disallowed.
Spurs had kept a clean sheet and thus earned a memorable first leg lead with a crucial away goal in this crunch fixture. Even though it is still technically half time, the Spurs’ display at the San Siro clearly shows that there is more to come from the spirited outfit. Their record at WHL is formidable; only once in 40 odd matches they have conceded more than two goals. While it is not impossible for Milan to romp home, if they decide to attack it will open the floodgates and the Spurs are traditionally strong in exploiting these.
Its game-on at WHL in 3 weeks time and another exciting, mesmerizing match is on the cards. This Tottenham side can go all the way as they look to rekindle the memories of those fabled Glory Nights at the erstwhile Three Point Lane.
– Joseph George