Spurs star: It feels like we're playing in the Champions League now
PUBLISHED: 11:52 13 March 2013 | UPDATED: 22:33 13 March 2013
Jan Vertonghen says Tottenham's Europa League campaign "feels like playing in the Champions League" as he prepares for tomorrow's second-leg showdown with Inter Milan.
The Belgium international concedes that the group stage of Europe’s second-tier competition can lack quality and excitement, but he is relishing the chance to secure a place in the quarter-finals as Spurs gear up for their trip to the San Siro.
Andre Villas-Boas’ Lilywhites take a 3-0 lead to Italy after a dominant display in the home leg of their last-16 tie last week – and Vertonghen says he would be happy to end up on the losing side on the night, as long as Tottenham progress in the tournament.
“In the group stage you sometimes think ‘we want to play against the big teams’ but when you go through you meet the teams from the Champions League and the other best teams in Europe, and now I think it feels like playing in the Champions League,” said Vertonghen.
“We had the perfect result at home to go to Milan, and now it’s all about going through to the next round. I think if we had a 1-0 defeat, we’d see it as a win. You want to go through and you want to have a good game, that’s it.”
Vertonghen was involved in the Champions League group stage with Ajax in 2010 and 2011, but he considers Tottenham to be a bigger club – and he is confident that Spurs will be seated at Europe’s top table next season, despite the defeat at Liverpool on Sunday, which undermined their efforts to finish in the top four.
“We have way more qualities than Ajax in my opinion - of course it’s a bigger team, it’s a bigger league,” he said. “We just made personal mistakes [against Liverpool] and that can happen. We’re still very confident about getting to the Champions League.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t have the win or at least a point, because we deserved at least one point.
“I think we had confidence - if you beat Milan 3-0 at home it gives you confidence for your next game - but we were unlucky and we made personal mistakes.
“The game against Fulham at home on Sunday is the perfect game to pick up a run again. Of course the ‘big games’ will be very important because Chelsea and, to a lesser extent, Manchester City are fighting with us for the third and fourth place and you’ve got to win those games, like we did against Arsenal.
“But every game is only three points and the matches against teams like Fulham are as important as Chelsea for me.
“If we can beat Chelsea it will be very nice to keep them level with us, but we’re only thinking about the Inter and Fulham games now.”
Vertonghen has scored three goals in his last two games against Inter Milan and Liverpool over the last week, taking his tally to five for the season.
“I’m pleased with my goals but, believe me, I would give away my goals to have even got a point against Liverpool,” he said.
“I’ve always scored quite a lot of goals for a centre-back. Last year I had 11 with every competition added together. I think I’m in the right place at the right time.”
The same could be said about Vertonghen’s defending after his man of the match performance against Arsenal in the north London derby, and his impressive subsequent displays against Inter and Liverpool.
Villas-Boas said: “Jan has been doing extremely well and has adapted to the country very quickly. He is a defender who scores goals and he showed exactly that quality [on Sunday].”