By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (December 6th 2012)
Tottenham Hotspur advanced to the last 32 of the Europa League with a comfortable 3-1 victory over Panathinaikos at White Hart Lane tonight. Togo’s controversial international Emmanuel Adebayor opened the scoring after almost half an hour. American midfielder Clint Dempsey claimed the assist with a defence-splitting pass to the Togolese striker on the left of the area.
Zeca equalised for the Greeks after 54 minutes before Dempsey restored Spurs’ lead rather fortuitously off keeper Orestis Karnezis’ just over 20 minutes later, calming Tottenham Hotspurs’ nerves. With less than ten minutes remaining Defoe got the goal that he deserved, chipping over Karnezis from close range after being found in space by Aaron Lennon’s delightful pass from the outside of the foot.
Spurs advanced to the last 32 of the Europa League comfortably enough with Lazio topping the group after hammering Maribor 4-1 away. “It was important for us,” Spurs manager André Villas-Boas said. “We had a good solid performance.” The young Portuguese coach holds the Europa League in high esteem and said that Spurs had proved that it was possible to take both the Premier League and Europa League seriously.
Comfort and Complacency?
Adebayor fired across keeper Orestis Karnezis to settle the nerves after 29 minutes in what had been a largely forgettable match up to that point. The Greeks had come to defend and try to smash and grab on the counter-attack. They needed nothing less than an unlikely win – something they hadn’t managed in four previous trips to England.
Argentine coach Juan Rocha, one of the Greek team’s greatest ever players and in his third spell as Panathinaikos coach set the Greeks up to defend deeply in the first half. It meant chances were few and far between and he changed the tactics for the second half. “In the second half we realised we had to defend higher up and put pressure on Sandro,” Rocha said.
But for the profligate finishing of José Toché it could have paid dividends quickly. Defoe had been unlucky to hit the base of the post moments earlier, but Toché’s failure to punish sloppy defending evened the opportunities. A minute later the lesson unlearned Nikos Spiropoulos’ cross to the back post found José Carlos Gonçalves Rodrigues (Zeca) unattended, leaving the attacking midfielder with the simple task of nodding past Brad Friedel from close range.
The goal knocked Tottenham out of their stride and the Greeks gained in confidence. Toché missed another golden opportunity after 69 minutes before Dempsey’s header from Kyle Walker’s free-kick hit the crossbar and rebounded in off the luckless Karnezis after 76 minutes – technically an own goal – but should such goals be given to the attacking player in such circumstances. Karnezis knew nothing about it, although absent his bad luck, it would not have been a goal. Nevertheless, the managers were clear that regardless of UEFA’s decision it should be credited to the Texan, Dempsey.
“This is very difficult,” Villas-Boas said. “The credit is down to the attacker whatever UEFA decides. We credit Dempsey.” Rocha agreed. “The goal should be credited to Dempsey,” he said. “It was a very powerful header.”
Seven minutes later Spurs made the match secure. Lennon’s sumptuous pass with the outside of his boot found Defoe on the right of the area. Defoe lifted his shot over the diving Karnezis to make it a comfortable 3-1 win.
A Priority and a Swipe?
Villas-Boas could concentrate on other matters now. “We can’t just ignore it,” Villas-Boas said of the Europa League. “We are in it; now we have to push. We are very, very proud to be in it. February would be very empty without it. Everybody wants to win it. We are in it and we want to do well.”
Meanwhile, Villas-Boas defends the integrity of the Europa League. He takes it very seriously and despite having won it previously with Porto, he sees this campaign as being about Spurs. He has made his point on the competition clear previously and to UEFA.
“We have got great results after Europa League,” Villas-Boas said. He believes that it is possible – necessary even – to compete in both the Europa League and Premier League and that Spurs have done it.
He maintains the integrity of the Europa League, believing that it is devalued by parachuting third placed champion’s League teams into the knock-out phase of the Europa League and he has told UEFA this too. “You can’t give a bonus to teams that fail.”