Tottenham Hotspur Fall 4-1 at Inter but Slip into Europa League Quarterfinals

Michael CummingsWorld Football Lead WriterMarch 14, 2013

MILAN, ITALY - MARCH 14:  (L-R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur Andre Villas-Boas celebrates with Scott Parker and Lewis Holtby after the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 second leg match between Inter Milan and Tottenham Hotspur at San Siro Stadium on March 14, 2013 in Milan, Italy. Tottenham Hotspur progress on the away goals rule.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

The aim was not, Andre Villas-Boas had insisted beforehand, to "prove anything," but rather, to complete the job Spurs had started so admirably last week.

Fair enough then. Tottenham Hotspur lost 4-1 to Inter on Thursday in the second leg of their UEFA Europa League Round of 16 tie. But as 4-1 defeats go, this one was as productive as they come.

After beating the same team 3-0 last week at White Hart Lane, Spurs sputtered to a 3-0 reverse at full-time in the San Siro. The tie then ended 4-4 on aggregate, as both teams scored in extra time.

But thanks to Emmanuel Adebayor's extra-time strike, Spurs slipped through to the quarterfinals on away goals despite being outplayed for 120 minutes without their biggest star.

Speaking of which, while AVB might have denied the suggestion that Tottenham had anything to prove Thursday, his team did so anyway. Put simply, the critics have a point when they question Tottenham's credentials without the talismanic presence of Gareth Bale.

The 23-year-old Welsh midfielder, who has shot to global acclaim in recent weeks for a string of strong performances, sat out Thursday's match after receiving a yellow card for simulation in the first leg.

Granted, his presence wouldn't necessarily have stopped Inter from scoring four times, but with each passing game, it becomes more clear that his influence extends in and out and all throughout the squad.

Without him, Spurs nearly suffered a historic collapse. No team had lost a knockout tie in the Europa League era after winning the first leg by three goals. For all their domination last week in London, Spurs were outclassed in Italy.

But that matters little for now. Tottenham are still alive in the Europa League, and despite tasting defeat for the second time in as many matches, they're well-placed both domestically and in Europe.

Bale, meanwhile, won't remain suspended forever—though the gossip pages continue to speculate about his future—and his return to the squad will no doubt lift Spurs as the run-in resumes.

Villas-Boas made four changes to the team that lost 3-2 at Liverpool in the league over the weekend. Adebayor took a spot in Spurs' shuffled attack, and 35-year-old defender William Gallas replaced Michael Dawson in the defense.

Within 20 minutes, Inter broke the resistance and mounted their comeback. The outstanding Rodrigo Palacio placed a perfect cross at the back post, where Antonio Cassano pounded his header off the pitch and past Brad Friedel.

Palacio hit the bar five minutes later after chipping Friedel, but Spurs managed to hold out without conceding again before halftime. Seven minutes after the restart, though, Inter found another.

Cassano turned provider this time, slipping a through-ball to Palacio, who beat Gallas effortlessly and curled his shot into the side netting. Gallas was the culprit again in the 75th minute, turning an Inter free kick into his own net.

That leveled the tie at 3-3 and sent the second leg to extra time. There, Adebayor saved Spurs with his Johnny-on-the-spot tap-in, even though Inter made matters interesting with Ricardo Alvarez's 110th-minute goal.

Andrea Ranocchia, in fact, headed just over the bar in the 120th minute, with only Friedel to beat. Clearly stunned, Friedel could only hold his hands to his head.

For 120 minutes, this second leg had defied belief. And because of it, the self-belief Villas-Boas had so confidently proclaimed in the absence of his star seemed at best misplaced.