It might be only their first apperance in the Champions League, but Tottenham Hotspur have certainly made the most of it.
After eliminating AC Milan in the first knockout round, they find themselves in the quarterfinals. Whatever happens from now on, Tottenham can certainly feel proud of their participation as they've upset some European giants and they've done a better campaign than their North London rivals Arsenal FC.
The draw wasn't very kind to Tottenham, as they'll have to beat Real Madrid in order to advance to the semifinals. It's obvious that, given their history and the fact that they currently possess the most expensive squad ever assembled, Real Madrid must be considered favorites to advance.
But in cup football, being favorite is meaningless, it's all about the day. After all, who could see Arsenal beating Barcelona at the Emirates Stadium?
There's no doubt that Real Madrid have a better squad overall. If Tottenham and Real Madrid were competing in the same league, it'd be almost certain that Real Madrid would finish ahead of Tottenham. But they're not. This is the Champions League and, over the course of 180 minutes, everything can happen. Spurs certainly have reasons to believe that their adventure might not be over just yet.
Tottenham have won against the odds before. In the group stage, they were drawn with the defending champions Inter Milan and they managed to win the group. They beat Inter 3-1 to home and lost 4-3 at San Siro after being down 4-0 in the first half. Gareth Bale shined in both matches, scoring a hat trick in San Siro and setting up all Spurs goals at home.
In the first knockout round, they were drawn against the other Milan team, AC Milan. While it's a fact that the current Milan side is a shadow of their former dominant self, the Italians were still considered favorites to advance. But Tottenham kept on surprising the football world by getting a historic victory at San Siro and a home draw to ensure qualification.
Real Madrid might have a better team than AC Milan, but Spurs will also be better. After all, they beat Milan without the contributions of their star player Gareth Bale.
Not only is Van der Vaart a top quality midfielder, but he's also an ex-Madrid player.
For some reason, Real Madrid rejects always seem to get revenge on their former club. Last season, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder led their respective teams to the domestic double and the Champions League final...at the Bernabeu of all places.
Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, who were supposed to replace the Dutch duo, had to watch the final in the stands.
Samuel Eto'o is a similar story. After being dumped by Real Madrid, he helped Mallorca humiliate Los Blancos 5-1 at the Bernabeu. He then joined Barcelona and helped them achieve the most glorious period in their history, while scoring several goals against Real Madrid.
In this tie, Van der Vaart will also be eager to prove to his former employers that they made a mistake by selling him. An extra-motivated Van der Vaart might be key to Tottenham's hopes.
Gareth Bale was relatively unknown before this season, but that all changed after the Champions League group stages. His two performances against defending champions Inter Milan were nothing short of phenomenal. He completely dismantled Maicon, who's widely considered as one of the best fullbacks in the world.
The English media didn't waste any time hyping him as one of the best players in the world. While that was certainly a stretch, he showed that he has the potential to match the hype. What better chance to prove that than in the Champions League quarterfinals against Real Madrid, where a certain Cristiano Ronaldo rules the roost?
If he could dominate Maicon, he should have no problem doing the same against the hugely overrated Sergio Ramos. But now the pressure will be even higher and Bale has been dealing with some injuries lately (it's not even 100 percent sure that he'll play the first leg). Two vintage Bale performances would go a long way towards boosting Tottenham's chances.
Peter Crouch might also be crucial in this one, hard as it may seem to believe. Tottenham's striking force is, to put it nicely, quite pathetic. It's their weak point and it seems almost a miracle that they've advanced so far with such misfiring strikers. It seems even more unbelievable that they haven't tried to acquire a world class striker in the transfer windows. Crouch, Pavlyuchenko and Defoe clearly don't fit the bill.
That said, out of Crouch's nine goals this season, seven have been in the Champions League. He was also the second best scorer of the 2006/2007 Champions League while at Liverpool. He seems to morph into a quality striker in this competition for some reason. This is all the more important against Real Madrid, especially considering that Ricardo Carvalho tends to struggle against tall strikers. Crouch will be required to put chances to bed, just like in the San Siro against AC Milan.
Another potential mismatch that might favor Tottenham is Aaron Lennon vs. Marcelo. Tottenham probably have the paciest wing force in the world, with Gareth Bale on the left and Aaron Lennon on the right.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid's fullbacks are clearly the weak link of an otherwise star-studded squad. Real Madrid should control possession and attack more, but in Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, Spurs have the adequate weapons to exploit Real Madrid's back line and wreak havoc on the break.
After picking up an injury in Real Madrid's last La Liga match, Cristiano Ronaldo is in doubt for the first leg. His importance to Real Madrid this season can't be overstated, he has at times carried the team on his own.
He has already scored 37 goals in 42 matches. Only the best player of this generation, Barcelona's Lionel, has scored more this season (45 in 42), and that's saying a lot about what a great season Cristiano Ronaldo is having.
It's true that only four of Ronaldo's goals have come in Europe, but few doubt that Harry Redknapp prefers to face a Real Madrid side without their star player, at least in the first leg.
Even if Cristiano does play, it's highly unlikely that he will be in his best form right after returning from an injury.
Let's face it: Tottenham are huge underdogs on this one. They are in the Champions League for the first time, while their opponents have won this competition a record nine times. Real Madrid currently have the most expensive squad ever assembled, while Tottenham's XI is cheaper than Cristiano Ronaldo alone.
On paper, there's no use even playing this tie. But logics are often meaningless in football. After all, Lyon did eliminate Real Madrid last season and reached the semifinals of the Champions League.
There's usually an underdog in the semifinals of the Champions League, and Tottenham seems to be better equipped than Shakhtar Donetsk and Schalke 04 to do so.
This is an amazing statistic and one that should led any Spurs fan to desperation. This season, Spurs have got nine points in six matches against fellow Top Five teams in the Premier League (two wins, three draws and one defeat at Old Trafford), and only seven points in seven games against the bottom five in the league (one win, four draws, two defeats).
Their Champions League campaign further cements the belief that Tottenham actually play better (and get better results) against top teams, while struggling against minnows.
This might be because their strikers are poor, meaning that it is easier for Spurs to score when they don't have to control matches and constantly feed their strikers. Whatever the reason, Spurs will be hoping to keep their excellent record against big teams this season against Real Madrid.
Tottenham have undoubtedly been incredibly strong at home in this year's Champions League. In the group stages, they won all their three home matches, scoring 10 goals and conceding only two. Against Milan, they tied 0-0, in a game where they didn't really need to win given the advantage they got in the first leg.
White Hart Lane has been a real fortress in Europe this season. If Spurs are still in the tie after the first leg at the Bernabeu (a positive result or a slender defeat), José Mourinho and his men can certainly expect trouble in the second leg in North London.
Real Madrid undoubtedly have more quality depth than Tottenham, but when fully fit, Tottenham have a starting XI capable of beating any team.
A reliable goalkeeper in Gomes, a solid and experienced defense with Gallas, Dawson, Ekoto and Corluka and one of the best midfields in the world and arguably the best in the Premier League with Huddlestone, Modric, Lennon, Bale and Van der Vaart.
Real Madrid only have a clear edge as far as strikers are concerned. Other than that, Tottenham have a starting XI capable (on paper) of going toe-to-toe with Real Madrid. If they are fully fit, that is.
Tottenham have already done better than anyone could ask of them. Few could see them go past the group stages, let alone reach the last eight and beating the two Milan giants.
Whatever they do from now on, it's a bonus. If they lose, their players and fans will still have reasons to be proud of their participation. They have no pressure coming into this tie.
On the other hand, Real are, as always, under huge pressure. The most successful club of the XX century hasn't won the Champions League since 2002, which is way too long for a club like Real Madrid.
The standards are so high that even winning the league is not enough for a Real Madrid manager to have his job safe: just ask Fabio Capello.
The club and its fans are not happy to see their Catalan rivals do so much better than them in the past decade and they demand a Champions League trophy. José Mourinho knows that his job will only be safe if he can win La Decima. Anything other than lifting the trophy at Wembley will be considered failure for Real Madrid.
It doesn't take a genius to see that all the pressure is on Real Madrid's side, which Tottenham might try to exploit.
Tottenham have enjoyed an absolutely dream campaign so far. They guaranteed their spot last season with an epic and improbable 0-1 win at Manchester City in the penultimate matchday.
They were drawn against Young Boys in the playoff and their campaign seemed to be over even before it started when they found themselves 0-3 down in the first half of the first leg match. But they managed to bounce back and advance to the group stages for the first time in their history. They were drawn in the group of death along with holders Inter, Twente and Werder Bremen.
In the group stages, they were the highest-scoring team with 18 goals and became the first team in Champions League history to score at least two goals in every group stage match. On their way to winning their group, they recorded maybe the most famous European victory ever with a 3-1 over Inter Milan, in a game where Gareth Bale left the football world in awe.
Despite winning their group, the draw wasn't very kind to Spurs, as they were up against the second most successful team in Champions League history and Serie A leaders AC Milan. But they still managed to win; unlike in the group stages, defense was their main weapon this time, as they held Milan's attack to zero goals over 180 minutes.
As expected, things were unlikely to get any easier for the hero, as they now face the most successful team in Champions League history and most expensive squad ever. If they do qualify, they'll probably play the best team in the world, FC Barcelona, next.
This campaign has all the making of a fairytale for Tottenham. Let's just hope their fairytale does continue against Real Madrid. Go Spurs!