Tottenham Hotspur Ready To Challenge Inter Milan For Champions League?
''We'll take on anybody now'', said a convincing Harry Redknapp following Tottenham's destruction of Young Boys Berne yesterday evening during the second leg of the Champions League qualifying round.
Redknapp had every right to crow about his side's chances of qualifying from the group stages of the world's most prestigious tournament in the club's first-ever appearance. His team had just completed a memorable comeback against their less prestigious Swiss opponents with a sixth goal without reply, after having been down 0-3 in the first leg.
He will also have been buoyed by the draw for the competition's group stages, which took place this evening in Monaco.
Internazionale themselves are likely to be less formidable under new manager Rafa Benitez than they were under the brilliant Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho.
Once teams progress from the groups into the knockout stages, the competition is a different animal. We have seen this in the past, when teams such as Lyon and Real Madrid in particular have reigned supreme early on, only to succumb to a more intelligent, cute, or even lucky adversary in the latter stages.
So, what does it take to win the Champions League?
An early scare, resolve, a couple of special players, a lot of luck, and belief.
On what do I base this assertion?
Take the case of Liverpool.
In 2005, Liverpool scraped through the third qualifying round against Grazer AK, conceding only three goals in the group stage thanks to Steven Gerrard's goals and spirit, Xabi Alonso's vision, the benefit of the doubt for Luis Garcia's winning quarter-final goal against Chelsea, and the spirit to come back from the dead on the biggest stage in the world to win the final 3-2 against AC Milan.
So why do I think Tottenham Hotspur can win the Champions League?
An Early Scare
Losing 3-0 on an artificial pitch against Young Boys Berne, Spurs seemed destined for an inglorious, and even embarrassing, exit from the Champions League—a prospect that was particularly galling given the euphoria that had followed on from the team's special 1-0 win at rivals Manchester City to secure their first-ever crack at the big time.
''We were staring down the barrel. We were in desperate trouble, all over the place.'' This was the verdict of a shell-shocked Harry Redknapp. But it was perhaps Sebastian Bassong's header just before half-time which gave Tottenham the impetus to go on to crush their opponents 6-3 on aggregate.
If you watched the team's defensive performance in the first half of their qualifying match, "resolve" is the last quality you would have associated with the players on display. Clueless would have been more accurate.
However, the team had proved on several occasions last season that they play with far more concentration, discipline, and unity than has ever been the case in the Premier League. Not only was this on display in their decisive victory at rivals Man City, but also during their home victories over Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal.
In Heurelho Gomes and Michael Dawson, they have two defensive players whose influence is growing and who are passionate and growing in confidence with each passing day.
A Couple of Special Players
''There can’t be a better left-sided player in the country''.
At the start of his Spurs career, 21 year-old Welsh wing-back Gareth Bale had the misfortune of playing 23 matches without a league victory. Two years later, he is an all-action hero lauded by the fans, players, and pundits alike.
Fit, quick, strong, and with an ability to score goals from both open plays and set pieces, he is the best player in a mouth-watering midfield line-up which also includes internationals Tom Huddlestone, Luka Modric, and Aaron Lennon.
"Tom can be anything he wants to be, he's just got so much ability. He's a fantastic footballer'', enthused Redknapp yet again-this time after England midfielder Tom Huddlestone played a pivotal role in almost single-handedly resuscitating his team's Champions League dreams.
Last night, the imposing former Derby County player excelled as comfortably the best player on the pitch, this in the context of a Peter Crouch hat-trick. His passing was sublime, his positioning reliable, his physicality crucial.
With these two young Brits going from strength to strength and a set of five strikers who have the intuition and quality to take the chances which will be created by Bale and Huddlestone, Spurs have the firepower to worry any team in the world.
A Lot of Luck
Let's not for one moment eschew Tottenham's ineptitude last week in falling to a 3-0 deficit within the first 30 minutes in Switzerland. In truth, the team should have been left with no escape route from a nightmare performance. They were only spared by some profligate finishing by their opponents, evidently incredulous at the space afforded by Tottenham's defenders.
Likewise, last Saturday Tottenham had referee Chris Foy to thank for preserving their 2-1 lead with the clock ticking down to full-time, after he generously waved play on even though Johnathan Walter had directed the ball past keeper Gomes and over the line, which would have earned Stoke City a deserved 2-2 draw at their Britannia Stadium.
It is luck such as this which Spurs will need to rely on when they are subjected to a barrage of violent and brilliant attacking football at the San Siro stadium or against Dutch champions FC Twente.
For the first time this millennium, there is stability at White Hart Lane. This coincides with the club's biggest recent success.
Fewer players come and go these day. This is because the squad has both depth and versatility.
Harry Redknapp, in his two years in charge, has led the team to Champions League qualification from bottom of the league. This has been achieved through a mixture of sensible transfer activity, belief in his players' ability, and experienced management.
His assured manner and know-how have rubbed off on the players. Each player knows his role. Each player relishes his defensive and offensive responsibilities. Success has been achieved as a team.
William Gallas, after his controversial switch between Arsenal and Tottenham was finalised last week, alluded to the spirit of the squad and feel-good factor surrounding the club as one of his main reasons for joining.
If Tottenham are to escape from a relatively tricky group stage and ride their luck on the way to Wembley—where next year's final will be held on 28 May—they will need not only Bale's brilliance and a bit of pluck, but also a lot more of the team spirit which has served them so well over the past few months.
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