Should Tottenham hope to meet or avoid Barcelona in Champions League draw?
Spurs prepare to learn their fate in tomorrow’s draw for the quarter-finals of the Champions League
FOR THOSE who haven’t noticed, Harry Redknapp is rather fond of turning the clock back a couple of years, to his early days as the manager of Tottenham.
If the Spurs boss had his way, the phrase ‘Two points from eight games’ would probably be printed across the team’s coach when they travel to the away leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
And yet it is hard to criticise the 64-year-old Lilywhites manager for his acute memory of the club’s position in 2008/09, when the goal was Premier League survival rather than European domination.
As Redknapp said last week, the Champions League was “an impossible dream” for Tottenham. Now Spurs are in the quarter-finals, in their very first year in the competition, offering very real proof that the club have been right all along – that they belong at this level.
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Arsenal have fallen, despite the experience of playing in this exalted tournament for the last 13 years in succession, but Tottenham still stand proudly next to the elite.
Now the question is: where will this thrilling journey lead next, and where will it end? Of course, the answer may be one and the same.
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Spurs will learn their fate tomorrow when the draw is made at Uefa headquarters in Nyon. And, once again, there will be a debate over the perfect outcome.
Some fans will pray for a trip to the Nou Camp – after all, when will Tottenham next have a chance of facing Barcelona is competitive action? Others will hope against hope that Schalke or Shakhtar Donetsk emerge.
Supporters will surely agree on one thing though – Spurs do not want to draw a fellow English side. There will be nothing new in a trip to Old Trafford, for example, and the Lilywhites’ record against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side over the years would also point towards defeat anyway.
Otherwise, like the draws that have gone before, it all depends what the supporters want from their Champions League adventure – to take on the best, or to progress.
So far, there has actually been no division there because Tottenham have repeatedly been handed the toughest tests, and passed them.
Redknapp maintains that Spurs had the hardest group, which included the holders Inter Milan and arguably the toughest side in Pot Three, Dutch champions FC Twente.
Despite that, Tottenham finished top of their group, beating the reigning European champions along the way.
The result should have been a last-16 tie with a ‘smaller’ team – Roma, Valencia, Lyon, Marseille and FC Copenhagen were all possible opponents.
AC Milan were the only big fish in the pond, and who did Spurs get? Of course, the seven-times winners, and the Serie A leaders.
There is no doubt that Spurs have done it the hard way, so Redknapp’s side surely deserve their slice of luck tomorrow – a tie with Schalke or Shakhtar ideally.
That may disappoint some fans who are dreaming of seeing the Lilywhites at the Nou Camp and Lionel Messi at White Hart Lane, but the goal must be to reach the final four, and that would be hugely unlikely if Spurs are paired with Barcelona.
The tie would be glamorous, but a draw with Barca would be the kiss of death for Tottenham. The players have admitted as much themselves.
Yes, the Champions League offers a chance to take on the very best, but ultimately there is no pleasure to be had in elimination.
How many Arsenal fans are gleefully recounting their trip to the Nou Camp this week? How many are revelling in Messi’s trickery, and the spell-binding passing of Xavi and Iniesta, in pubs across north London?
Of course there is an attraction in facing the biggest names and the greatest challenges, but ultimately the experience is defined by the result – victory or defeat.
It may seem cowardly to hope for a tie against Schalke or Shakhtar, but one thing is for sure – overcoming one of the weaker teams and reaching the semi-finals would be infinitely more enjoyable than elimination at the Nou Camp.
It is important to state that Schalke and Shakhtar are far from minnows – nobody is at this stage of the tournament, and Donetsk have never lost a game at their current home.
However, having beaten both Inter Milan and AC Milan, Spurs would surely be the favourites, a nice position at such an advanced stage.
And, should they reach the semi-final, there would certainly be another world-class team lying in wait. Better then than now.