When the Champions League draw was made at the end of August, pitting Tottenham Hotspur in the same group as Internazionale, most Spurs followers would doubtless have settled for qualifying for the knockout stage by finishing second to last season's winners. As they prepare for tonight's final game away to FC Twente, however, winning the section is very much on the cards. What they must do is match Inter's result away to the bottom club Werder Bremen.
The incentive is considerable, for it would mean avoiding Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, all of whom are guaranteed to win their group, as well as the other English clubs, who cannot be drawn together; missing the big guns as well as the Gunners (assuming Arsenal come through as expected tomorrow night) would send Spurs into the draw a week on Friday confident of further extending their first campaign at this level for almost half a century. As Peter Crouch, the striker who has excelled in Europe while stuttering in the Premier League, put it in relation to the two Spanish masters: "They are the two to avoid. Watching Barcelona the other night, they look incredible."
At 4-0 down after 35 minutes of the game in Milan, the idea of finishing in front of Inter on a head-to-head basis appeared laughable. Yet Gareth Bale cemented his position as a cult figure by scoring a hat-trick in what turned out to be nothing worse than a 4-3 defeat, and on one of White Hart Lane's glory, glory nights a fortnight later the young Welshman was outstanding again in setting up a 3-1 win. Beating Werder 3-0 in the next game to secure qualification meant that Tottenham's five group matches have produced a total of 23 goals, the highest of any club. Add in the qualifying round against Young Boys of Berne, which brought a 3-2 defeat and 4-0 win, and Harry Redknapp can be seen to have lived up to his promise to enter Europe on an attacking ticket.
"To have done as well as we've done so far has been exciting," he said last night in snowy Enschede. "We want more of it. We want to keep it going as long as we can." Naturally the manager would have preferred his defence to have been tighter and with the additional complication of needing to know Inter's result, Spurs' approach this evening in the Grolsch Veste stadium will need careful judgement. So will Redknapp's team selection. "I might just make one or two changes," he said, now that Michael Dawson, who has been out since August, and Jermaine Jenas are available. Younes Kaboul is absent again, as is Rafael van der Vaart, which denies Spurs their most effective formation, using the Dutchman just behind one striker. They will therefore need Luka Modric to have recovered fully from flu.
In a 1-1 draw at Birmingham City on Saturday, Crouch and Jermain Defoe failed to improve on a wretched scoring record of one League goal between them all season. Crouch, on the other hand, has six to his name in Europe. Whichever forwards are chosen will be up against a 40-year-old goalkeeper in Sander Boschker, who was in the Netherlands' World Cup final squad in July. Beaten 4-1 in London, when Spurs were awarded three penalties and Van der Vaart was sent off, the Dutch champions will end up third in the group and play in the Europa League whatever happens tonight. Tottenham hope destiny has an altogether grander finish in store.
KEY CONFRONTATION: PETER WISGERHOF v PETER CROUCH
Crouch has struggled for domestic form this season but has flourished in Europe, scoring six goals. Up against Twente's 5ft 11ins captain Peter Wisgerhof, the England international could prosper. Crouch's aerial threat also brings others into the game, with the likes of Jermaine Jenas and Luka Modric likely to capitalise on any of the striker's knock-downs.