Can Spurs dodge deadly AC Milan in last 16 draw for Champions League?
THERE IS always something special about a cup draw – the possibilites, the anticipation, the drama. The unbiased, unseeded, romantic randomness of the whole affair.
Perhaps the thrill is that, for teams like Tottenham, these moments when football celebrities dip their hands into the bowl of fate tend to be win-win situations.
Draw a big fish and it is a mouth-watering tie to savour. Draw a minnow and, regardless of all the pre-match talk of banana skins and ‘cupsets’, safe passage suddenly seems to be assured and the next round already beckons.
Now Spurs find themselves in the draw that everyone in the world is waiting for – the pairings for the last 16 of the Champions League, as battle is declared between two of Europe’s heavyweights over two legs.
For years, Lilywhites fans have watched this event with emotionless, distanced and disengaged interest, hoping only that Arsenal are fed to the biggest monster in the pond.
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This time it is different. Tomorrow Tottenham are in the pool, smaller than some but bigger than others and, crucially, in a different pen to the killer whales – especially the deadliest Spanish ones.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the mesh fence, Arsenal cast their bulging eyes around their hazardous tank as they weigh up their possible foes – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Schalke.
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It is a delicious position for Spurs to enjoy, having beaten Inter Milan to top spot in Group A – “the toughest of the lot”, according to Harry Redknapp.
That may be a claim too far. Real Madrid, AC Milan, Ajax and Auxerre would probably argue that Group G was pretty tricky, and that argument is supported by the fact that AC Milan are, ominously, among the second-place finishers who could draw Spurs.
Tottenham’s players have spent the last week saying that they don’t mind who they play, arguing that “you have to beat the best to be the best” or, in the words of Alan Hutton, “you need to beat them all if you’re going to win it.”
Both views are inherently wrong in a knockout competition, seemingly showing an ignorance for the format of the Champions League. But, putting that aside, these are still interesting sentiments.
Do the fans agree? Do they really not care who they get? Would they really be just as happy to face AC Milan as FC Copenhagen?
Or, in fact, has the time come to admit that a relatively ‘easy’ team would do very nicely indeed.
In the end it comes down to one simple question: What do Tottenham want from the Champions League? Do they want to play the best teams, or go as far as possible?
If the answer is the latter, as it must surely be now, then Tottenham must avoid AC Milan. Spurs may have overcome Inter – the holders, the reigning European and Italian champions – but this season there is only one team in Milan, and it isn’t Rafael Benitez’s side.
It is the Rossoneri who currently sit top of Serie A, six points clear of Juventus and 13 ahead of Inter.
A fearful peek at their squad list shows why: Pato, Gattuso, Inzaghi, Seedorf, Nesta, Zambrotta, Pirlo, Ambrosini, Robinho, Ronaldinho, Ibrahimovic.
These are some of the best-known names in world football, and they are supported by the likes of ex-Tottenham midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng and former Gunner Mathieu Flamini.
Spurs will draw one of six teams tomorrow and if they get any of the other five – particularly FC Copenhagen – the Lilywhites will immediately fancy their chances of reaching the quarter-finals.
Roma, captained by Francesco Totti, have recognisable names in Brazil centre-back Juan, John Arne Riise, Phillipe Mexes, Daniele De Rossi and Arsenal flop Julio Baptista, but they are sixth in Italy – still ahead of Inter.
Valencia have a good pedigree in Europe but have few star turns these days, having been forced to sell David Villa and David Silva in the summer.
Lyon have Frenchman Yoann Gourcuff and Cameroon’s Jean Makoun in their ranks, but are currently third in France, while Marseille are fifth.
These are hardly minnows but they are certainly more palatable than
Spurs cannot lose in tomorrow’s draw – it is a win-win moment for the club – but we will certainly know a lot more about their chances of advancing even further at midday. Let’s go fishing.