Bale-less Spurs ready for Inter
PARIS (AFP) –
A Tottenham side missing Gareth Bale and fellow Londoners Chelsea will be seeking to book quarter-final berths in the Europa League on Thursday, but the Blues will have to do things the hard way after a first-leg defeat at Steaua Bucharest.
Rafael Benitez’s men lost 1-0 in Romania but, having recovered from two goals down at Old Trafford to earn an FA Cup replay at the weekend, they will be hoping for a similar comeback at Stamford Bridge.
That would keep alive Benitez’s ambition of putting at least one trophy on the sideboard before leaving in the summer after a difficult time of it as interim coach.
Spurs, on the other hand, appear bound for the last eight after whipping a pale Inter Milan side 3-0 at White Hart Lane.
Tottenham coach Andre Villas-Boas knows only too well how poisoned is the Chelsea chalice having supped from it himself, only to be fired midway through last season.
But the Portuguese has clearly learned from the experience by bouncing back on the other side of London.
Under his guidance, Spurs, who were denied a place in the Champions League last May by dint of his successor Roberto Di Matteo winning the tournament, have managed to date to keep the Blues at arm’s length and currently stand third, two points ahead and seven ahead of North London rivals Arsenal.
Villas-Boas has called on his side to forget the Liverpool loss, which ended a 12-match unbeaten run.
Although Wales star Bale is suspended for the return to Inter’s San Siro, where he hit a hat-trick in the Champions League group phase two years ago, Villas-Boas says European glory is there for the taking.
“We have a wonderful opportunity to continue in the Europa League,” he said.
“Our rewards can be with the Europa League trophy and Champions League qualification – that is our main ambition.”
Lifting the trophy would see Chelsea complete the set of European Cup, the now defunct Cup Winners’ Cup and also UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League, a triple achieved to date only by Bayern Munich, Ajax and Juventus.
England’s other survivors, Newcastle, would certainly be more than happy with Europa League success, however maligned the tournament may be compared with the far more lucrative Champions League, where participation itself brings in megabucks as well as far greater kudos.
The Magpies have not won a trophy since their 1969 win in the Europa League’s distant forerunner, the Fairs Cup.
Newcastle welcome Russia’s Anzhi Makhachkala after a goalless draw in Russia and Pardew says reaching the quarter-finals is eminently achievable.
“We have got a real quality team coming on Thursday and our fans are well-educated enough to know that it will be tough for us and we are going to need every one of them in here to make the atmosphere such that we squeeze through,” said coach Alan Pardew.
Former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o, Champions League winner with both the Catalan club and Inter Milan, will make his 100th European career appearance.
“I’m as happy as I was when I started this beautiful job,” said the Cameroon star, who has netted 44 European goals to date.
“We know we have performed really well so far. The goal is to go as far as possible and why not reach the final,” Eto’o told UEFA.com.
Italy’s Lazio must meanwhile face Stuttgart behind closed doors following racist behaviour and the setting-off of smoke bombs in their recent 2-0 win over another German side Borussia Moenchengladbach.
If the Italians, 2-0 up from the away leg, progress their fans will also be excluded from the home leg of their quarter-final.
Europa League last 16 second leg fixtures:
Newcastle United (ENG) v Anzhi Makhachkala (RUS) (1st leg 0-0)
Fenerbahce (TUR) v Viktoria Plzen (CZE) (1-0)
Lazio (ITA) v VfB Stuttgart (GER) (2-0)
Chelsea (ENG) v Steaua Bucharest (ROM) (1-0)
Bordeaux (FRA) v Benfica (POR) (0-1)
Inter Milan (ITA) v Tottenham (ENG) (0-3)
Rubin Kazan (RUS) v Levante (ESP) (0-0)
At St Petersburg
Zenit St Petersburg (RUS) v Basel (SUI) (0-2)