Spurs' penalty hoodoo costs them a place in semi-finals
Basel 2 Tottenham Hotspur 2 (Aggregate 4-4 (aet); Basel win 4-1 on penalties): Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas hailed his side’s battling spirit despite their elimination from the Europa League on penalties.
Missed efforts from Tom Huddlestone and Emmanuel Adebayor saw Basel progress to the last four after two goals from Clint Dempsey – the second eight minutes from the end of normal time – raised hopes of a first European semi-final appearance since they won this competition courtesy of a shootout victory over Feyenoord in 1984. But while Basel were successful with all four of their attempts, Huddlestone's miss and then Adebayor's skied effort ensured that Tottenham have now lost their last seven shoot-outs in all competitions – a disastrous run that now stretches back nearly 20 years.
Afterwards, Villas-Boas expressed his disappointment at going out of a competition that has seen his side play 12 matches to reach this stage but was full of praise for their efforts.
“My first thoughts are for the players, they set a great example for the country. The way they approached the competition, playing every Thursday and Sunday,” he said.
“They showed the country it is possible to approach it in a different way. I will cherish this and so should the players, we made the country feel different about the competition. It has seen most of the English teams change their approach to the competition and that now it means a lot. We set the standard for the future, next time we will go better as it could not have gone worse tonight.”
Dempsey had given Spurs the lead in the first half but Mohamed Salah equalised three minutes later and Villas-Boas's team looked to be heading out of the competition when Aleksandar Dragovic gave Basel the lead soon after the interval.
Both teams missed excellent chances but just as Basel were contemplating a place in today's semi-final draw, Dempsey latched on to a pass from substitute Huddlestone and directed his shot in off goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Spurs even came close to winning it in the final four minutes when Kyle Walker's cross was deflected across goal but Basel survived and the match headed into an extra 30 minutes, before Jan Vertonghen was dismissed for bringing down Marco Streller when clean through.
At the start, the task for Tottenham could scarcely have been more difficult. Basel had won their last four Europa League matches here and had not conceded a goal in any of those games. If that alone were not sufficient to fill the hosts with confidence, Spurs arrived without an away win in the competition this season, and with only one victory on the road in their last nine European fixtures.
Spurs were without Gareth Bale, by some distance their most dangerous attacker, and Aaron Lennon due to ankle and knee injuries respectively. In their absence, Villas-Boas selected a similar tactical plan to the one he had used for the 2-2 draw with Everton: a 4-1-4-1 formation, with goalkeeper Brad Friedel and defender Kyle Naughton replacing Hugo Lloris and Steven Caulker.
Yet the start could hardly have been better for Spurs. Attempting to intercept Vertonghen's pass from inside the Spurs half, Dragovic slipped and when he regained his footing, Dempsey had rounded goalkeeper Sommer and given Spurs the lead. Just when Tottenham needed to consolidate their advantage, they made a costly mistake. Under little pressure, Mousa Dembélé presented possession to El-Nenny. From El-Nenny the ball moved quickly to Streller and then Salah, who ran beyond Naughton and guided the ball inside Friedel's near post.
Basel started the second half brightly and were rewarded, their second goal arriving four minutes after the re-start. Spurs looked to be running out of ideas but Huddlestone found Dempsey and, thanks to an error by Sommer, the American sent the match into extra-time.
Having not won a shootout since beating Peterborough United in the 1994 FA Cup, Spurs had good reason to fear the lottery from 12 yards. And after Huddlestone's early miss, Adebayor sealed their fate.
Man of the match El-Nenny.
Match rating 8/10.
Referee O Benquerença (Por).
Europa league last four
Basel, Benfica, Chelsea, Fenerbahce
Draw is in Nyon on Friday. First legs 25 April; Second legs 2 May
Belfast Telegraph Digital