Penalty strikes end UEFA hopes of last eight for Spurs and Everton
Liverpool's win on Tuesday night in the San Siro came on the back of another English win in the very same Italian garden the week before, and cemented four English teams featuring in the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the very first time in the competition's history. European football for the English clubs, if not British, is looking much more progressive this season.
So turning to the UEFA Cup last night with the hopes of Spurs and Everton riding on the respective teams overturning their first leg deficit, European night came alive to our screens once again. I didn't watch Everton v Fiorentina as I felt, despite the 2-0 advantange the Italian side carried, the Toffees would show strong home form to make more of a challenge. Spurs were away to PSV and requiring one goal at the least in the Philips Stadion was more than an objective.
Both PSV and Spurs were equally matched but something in Spurs' play made me convinced they would pull the required goal and they did, albeit quite late. A Pascal Chimbonda cross from the right and a Dimitar Berbatov half-volley later with under 10mins remaining did the business. Darren Bent came on in the second half and had two good chances while the best came in the dying moments of extra-time with Steed Malbranque's half-volley being met with a timed right hand from Heurelho Gomes.
Paul Robinson saved one penalty by Danko Lazovic which meant Jermaine Jenas could have won it for Spurs but for some reason he didn't bury it, instead aiming to place a chipped ball that was comfortable at diving-level for 6ft 4in Gomes to block. Didier Zokora stepped up and I didn't feel he would be responsible enough to have the coolness to score yet I hailed for him to keep it low and very firm. He did make it firm but high into the roof of the net, which was good enough. But when Chimbonda stepped up, I definitely didn't feel confidence in him having that same coolness, reason being his manner in being subbed in the Carling Cup Final a major factor. The Frenchman's effort went wide of the goal.
Juande Ramos was edging closer to his third successive UEFA Cup final. There were good performances from individuals who showed minor errors in rare moments of the game, but overall Spurs were worthy of the victory that wasn't to be. Lee Young-Pyo was sacrificed at half time for Bent, making a 3-4-3. Sometime after, Ledley King was replaced with Aaron Lennon, Ramos shoring up the defence with Zokora partnering Jonathan Woodgate, Malbranque at left-back. After Berbatov scored, Jamie O'Hara came on for Robbie Keane, who was superb, moving to the left, Lennon moved to the right wing, Spurs going back to a strengthened 4-4-2.
I think Spurs should have used Lennon's pace down the right much more whereas he was restricted to coming inside and feeding others rather than getting round his marker and crossing near and low. In attack they passed well and were allowed to venture forward more as a result, as PSV were defensively positioned but more attack-minded. Yet Spurs could turn to the first-leg at The Lane as the point where they should have made their intent count than to lose, particularly without scoring.
I understand Everton suffered the same fate, being more the team to score, dominating, a scrappy Andy Johnson goal that was doubled when Mikel Arteta launched a sweet screamer from 25yds to level the aggregate. Yet they missed two penalties, as with Spurs, and I think they rue the chances they created but did not convert against a Fiorentina side who were quite comfortably 2nd best throughout.
Bolton play tonight at the Estadio Jose Alvalade of Sporting Lisbon, where it is 1-1 on aggregate. But I am very concerned that the likes of captain Kevin Nolan, Kevin Davies, El-Hadji Diouf, Ricardo Gardner to name a few will not be featuring. Twelve seniors are being left at home as Gary Megson instead looks further to Premiership survival than European glory. Still, with FA Cup shocks and Champions League exits for big teams, maybe the Portuguese can be hit with another Cup exit. Against all odds, maybe.