Premier League - Spurs win at Liverpool to go fifth
They are now a point above Liverpool going into the final game of the season, which sees Spurs host Birmingham and Liverpool travel to Aston Villa
The pre-match joke was that both sides would be doing their best to throw this match in order to avoid participating in Europe's secondary competition next season, but Tottenham's players seemed determined to secure continental football as they made a strong start.
Van der Vaart fired a shot from range wide after previously getting in Steven Pienaar's way from another opportunity, but the Dutchman soon found the back of the net in stunning fashion.
A ninth-minute corner was headed out to Van der Vaart, who took the ball on his chest and unleashed a cracking volley which flew past Pepe Reina and into the top corner after appearing to get a slight deflection on its way through. It was Van der Vaart's 13th league goal of the season, and he remains the only Spurs player to reach double figures in the Premier League this term.
After that opener, Liverpool gradually began to work their way back into the game. Midfielder Jay Spearing dragged an effort wide after he was involved in some good build-up play, while Andy Carroll should have at least tested Carlo Cudicini with his far post header that went into the crowd.
Maxi Rodriguez went down in search of a penalty from Younes Kaboul's challenge, but referee Howard Webb ignored both the Liverpool appeals and Kaboul's request to book the Argentine for diving.
The influential Luis Suarez fired a well-struck free-kick wide just before the break, but the Reds went in at half-time a goal down.
Spurs lost the services of Van der Vaart soon after the restart when he appeared to tweak his troublesome hamstring following another shot from distance, and he was replaced by Jermain Defoe.
Their luck changed when they were awarded a soft 55th-minute penalty. Young full-back John Flanagan had been very effective in neutralising the attacking threat of Pienaar, but he was harshly penalised for a shoulder-to-shoulder barge on the edge of the box for which Webb pointed to the spot.
With Van der Vaart off the pitch, it was down to Modric to fire home the spot-kick for only his fourth goal of the season.
Unperturbed by giving away that penalty, Flanagan continued his good work and contributed plenty going forward for Liverpool. The 18-year-old fired a strike into the side netting after being fed by Suarez, and then returned the favour by picking out the Uruguayan with a pinpoint square pass which was fired over the bar.
Jonjo Shelvey fired just wide of the top corner soon after coming off the bench for Liverpool but the Reds could not claw back a point to avoid Spurs doing the league double over them for the first time in 24 years.