Champions League - Early Doors: Now or never for Spurs

Eurosport - Fri, 27 Aug 08:02:00 2010

Tottenham Hotspur's Champions League adventure may be their one chance to avoid falling behind the Premier League big boys for good.

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Sometimes, football can be such a cruel game. Has Spurs not overcome their embarrassing wobble in Switzerland last week then we would all now be looking ahead to the dream fixture that is Inter-Young Boys. That would never have got old.

But, as it is, it will be Tottenham Hotspur who face the European champions in the Champions League group stage, as well as Werder Bremen and FC Twente.

Inter were for so long the Serie A equivalent of Spurs, living in the shadow of their more illustrious neighbours while clinging on to great but distant glories. It's amazing what a combination of spending power, institutionalised match-fixing and Jose Mourinho can do in turning round a club's fortunes.

Of course, the real thriller of a draw is in Group G, where Auxerre will face Real Madrid, Milan and Ajax, three clubs with 20 European Cups between them. But, as they a) have been in the group stage before and b) are French, nobody cares.

The Premier League is in need of a boost after last season's performance among Europe's elite. No English team made it into the last four, and one of the country's biggest clubs (no sniggering at the back) failed to make it out of the group stage.

Can Tottenham justify their place at the top table and reaffirm the strength in depth of the English game? With Sevilla and Sampdoria both falling short in their respective representations of Spain and Italy, the fact that England is the only nation represented by four clubs this season is already cause for optimism.

With Chelsea (Marseille, Spartak Moscow, MSK Zilina), Manchester United (Valencia, Rangers, Bursaspor) and Arsenal (Shakhtar Donetsk, Braga, Partizan Belgrade) all handed eminently winnable groups, it's up to Spurs to try and restore the annual clean sweep of qualification.

The all-conquering Nerazzurri aside, Werder Bremen and Twente provide little glamour but remain difficult opponents, but things could have been worse for them. They have been spared an energy-sapping trip to Eastern Europe, and the absence of any clear whipping boys in the group will make it more open. No disrespect to Zilina, but their presence in Group A may have reduced proceedings to a two-legged tie with Bremen for second place.

The last time a non-'Big Four' club reached this stage, Newcastle, were drawn in a group of similar difficulty to Spurs in 2002-03. After losing their first three matches against Juventus, Feyenoord and Dynamo Kiev they won each of their return fixtures to qualify. Unfortunately, their reward at the time was a something of a shafting courtesy of their entry into the short-lived and ill-conceived second group phase, a footballing innovation on a par in popularity with the silver goal.

Spurs boss Harry Redknapp was typically bullish about his side's chances. Channelling the spirit of Frankie Howerd, he said after the draw: "Are we worried about taking on Inter? Am I worried about going to the San Siro stadium? Do my players think they are inferior? No, no and no again.

"We will have a go at teams, especially at home, because that is how we are - an attacking side who play an open game."

Whether Redknapp's no-nonsense approach proves to be naive idealism or the key to some classic European nights at White Hart Lane remains to be seen, but progressing from the group would represent a boon not just for Spurs but for the Premier League as a whole.

The boost in credibility and the club coffers would allow them to attract more top players and accelerate the development of their long-mooted new stadium, helping them, in the short term at least, to keep pace with the financial juggernaut that is Manchester City.

With the Eastlands side waylaid by a season in the Europa League, Spurs have to make the most of this season headstart. If they do, they can usher in a new, exciting era in their history. If not, they could get left behind forever.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "When we went to Manchester for the UEFA Cup final it was one of the biggest movements of people in Europe, 150,000 people descending on the city. Going down in those vast numbers was obviously a lot for any club and any city to deal with. It was a final. I still believe to this day it was a small minority who spoiled it for the majority, but this is a different tie." - Rangers chief executive Martin Bain insists there will be no repeat of the 2008 carnage caused in Manchester from Gers fans when they travel to Old Trafford for their Champions League group stage clash this season.

FOREIGN VIEW: "Teams appear easy or difficult in theory but you have to see what happens on the pitch ... it's clear there are no spectacular names in our group." - Barcelona sports director Andoni Zubizarreta tells it like it is after Barca were drawn against Panathinaikos, Copenhagen, Rubin Kazan in Group D.

COMING UP: Wasn't it fortunate that Inter players grabbed a clean sweep of the UEFA player of the year awards at the Champions League draw when they all happened to be in town for the UEFA Super Cup this evening? Follow live commentary of Internazionale v Atletico Madrid tonight at 19:45.

Before that you can grab your live sporting fix by following the first two practice sessions ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix. Live F1 commentary is at 09:00 and 13:00 today.

Or you can keep yourself amused by following the second day of the fourth Test at Lord's. Commentary of England v Pakistan kicks off at 10:30.


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