Tottenham Hotspur 3 Club Bruges 1: Berbatov's swagger leaves Spurs on the brink of knockout stage

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The Independent Online

Paying £10.9m for a striker was a statement of intent by Tottenham Hotspur last summer. And last night Dimitar Berbatov gave his own flourish of a reply with a signature performance of power and guile which led his new team and all but saw them qualify from Group B into the knockout stages of the Uefa Cup.

There Spurs will meet the big boys, those cast out of the Champions' League, but such is the swagger of their star striker - who scored two accomplished goals and created another with a wonderful volleyed pass - that he will believe he is in deserving company. "Berba", as he is known, was a demon.

The rest of the Spurs side need to have the same belief. With four games won and just one goal conceded they have stabilised their season with their manager, Martin Jol, proclaiming the second half as "the best this season".

The nationality of last night's opponents evoked the glory of the Uefa Cup triumph, against Anderlecht, back in 1984. Indeed, Spurs also played Bruges the following season - and scored three goals at home against them then as well.

It could have been more last night. Despite scoring first, with a high-class finish, the Belgians proved nothing more than early-round fodder.They were saved from embarrassment by profligacy but went ahead after a dozen minutes when Michael Dawson, struggling with after an injury, stood off and allowed Salou Ibrahim to turn on the area's edge and curl a right-footed shot beyond Paul Robinson.

Far from being stunned Spurs, who had already been denied a clear penalty for handball, immediately responded. A free-kick by Jermaine Jenas was headed back across goal by Pascal Chimbonda and as the ball looped towards the turf it was met gloriously on the volley by Berbatov. It was a moment which, the Bulgarian later said, meant "we started playing like a team". And this was probably, with the return of Didier Zokora who had missed four matches with mild malaria, what Jol would believe is his strongest line-up.

Suddenly chances started to come. First, a clever chip by Robbie Keane released Aaron Lennon who found Berbatov. The Bulgarian swivelled and, with goalkeeper Stijn Stijnen stranded, laid the ball to Hossam Ghaly who steered it over. Then Stijnen saved from Berbatov at close-range before Jenas struck the outside of the post.

After the re-start and there was an even sharper pass by Berbatov, into the path of Keane who, clear on goal, allowed Stijnen to block and, then, Lennon directed a soft shot straight at the keeper. Finally the dam broke. Again Berbatov was involved, hooking the ball over his shoulder to Keane, who ran on and slammed in a low cross-shot.

Berbatov then deservedly collected his second. It was only a routine cross by Ghaly but he worked his way in between two defenders and headed down and beyond Stijnen from six yards.

"For me it's important that they do it every game," Jol said when asked to sum up the performance. It was a clear reference to Berbatov's patchy Premiership form. "Against Besiktas he was good and tonight he was better than good. But we need to do it in the league as well." Jol was, rightly, refusing to get carried away. Next up is Chelsea. If Berba can deliver against the champions then that will change.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Dawson, King, Assou-Ekotto; Ghaly, Zokora, Jenas, Lennon (Murphy, 80); Keane, Berbatov (Mido, 80). Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Davids, Defoe, Huddlestone, Gardner.

Club Bruges (4-4-2) Stijnen; Priske, Maertens (Vandelannoite, 80), Clement, Gvozdenovic; Yulu-Matondo, Vermant, Blondel, Engelbert; Ibrahim, Balaban. Substitutes not used: Verbauwhede (gk), Ishiaku, Dreesen, Van Heerden, Leko, Roelandts.

Referee: A Undiano Mallenco (Sp).

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