There were worse worries than Europa League elimination on Tottenham’s mind last night as they faced the prospect of a spell without Gareth Bale. Even with Bale they were outplayed by FC Basel last night, and now they must win in Switzerland without him.
Bale, their best player and inspiration, will miss at least two weeks after a late ankle injury. Tottenham were pressing for a winner after pulling back an early 0-2 deficit. Bale, chasing down one last ball, collided with David Degen, rolled over his right ankle and put his weight on it.
Immediately collapsing in agony, Bale beat the turf in pain before being stretchered off to a standing ovation. He will be scanned today, with Spurs hoping to have him back for the visit of Manchester City on 20 April.
Before then there is a second leg of this tie to play, though, which Tottenham need to win unless they can spring an unlikely 3-3 or 4-4. But progressing with Bale would be hard enough anyway, judging by how the Swiss champions out-moved their hosts with incisive attacking football last night.
With the intelligent Marco Streller up front and with the artful and energetic Mohamed Salah and Valentin Stocker behind, Basel created far more chances than Spurs and will themselves be frustrated not to have killed the tie last night.
“This Basel team was probably the best team I have ever seen at White Hart Lane,” Villas-Boas said afterwards, entirely fairly. “They are a good team who play great football and were well organised. All the recognition to a top opponent we had to play here tonight.”
“They created more chances than us, they were best side tonight, we easily recognise that. They could have won the game, but the positive thing is we managed to get back into the tie. Had it finished 2-0 that would probably mean our task would be very, very difficult in Basel.”
Basel must be acutely aware of this. At 2-0 they had chances to go 3-0 up and at 2-2 they still created more than Spurs.
“Perhaps we are annoyed not to have won last night,” Basel coach Murat Yakin said after the game. “We got off to a great start, we set out to attack and we scored twice. It is obviously a pity we couldn’t go further.”
Basel could even have been three goals before they scored their first. Villas-Boas brought William Gallas and Kyle Naughton into his back four and Spurs never looked settled and were regularly teased apart by Basel’s swift counter-attacks.
Stocker, an elusive inside forward barely picked up once by Spurs all night, had the first chance when he was fed by Streller but his shot was palmed away by Friedel. Spurs should have realised they were in trouble straight after when Streller darted ahead of a ponderous Gallas at the near post to meet Salah’s cross, but he could only shoot at Friedel too . Markus Steinhofer, Basel’s galloping right back, soon volleyed over.
It took Tottenham 15 minutes to do anything at all and even then it was just a brief glimmer before the storm, Bale hitting one free-kick at Yann Sommer and then skewing a shot wide. And then the goals came.
Stocker charged forward through the middle and knocked a pass out to Salah on his right. Salah crossed to Streller who spun and shot against the post, but Stocker was first to the rebound and stabbed the ball in.
Spurs failed to focus and found themselves 2-0 down three minutes later. Jan Vertonghen got a slight near-post touch on Stocker’s corner, Kyle Naughton failed to react, Fabian Frei did and headed past Friedel from space at the far-post. This was bad and it nearly got worse, Stocker again escaping everyone’s attentions, racing onto a through pass before chipping over Friedel but inches wide of the post.
Only then, having seen the prospect of elimination, did Spurs start to play. One flurried attack ended with Spurs pulling a goal back. Bale’s shot hit Holtby, Adebayor skewed the follow-up but turned in Parker’s next effort.
Suddenly infused with momentum, Spurs should have equalised before the break. Sigurdsson’s perfect pass found Holtby’s forward run but Yann Sommer came out to block. The ball fell to Parker, who only had Holtby in front of him, but he somehow shot against his prostrate team-mate and the ball flew wide. At least Spurs had woken up.
The interval might have robbed Spurs of some of their fluency and when Salah raced past Vertonghen he could have scored a third away goal, but shot at Friedel’s legs.
Soon enough Spurs started to pour forward again, in a match that closer resembled the pace and unpredictability of the Premier League than the patient chess usually seen in later stages in Europe. Kyle Naughton’s rocket shot from 30 yards was saved by Sommer, but the Swiss goalkeeper could do nothing about the equaliser two minutes later.
Sigurdsson, increasingly influential on Spurs’ left wing, cut inside and shot with his right from 20 yards. The ball hit Fabian Schar on the thigh and flew away into the near top corner.
Basel were frustrated but they continued to push, knowing that a 3-2 win was very possible. Salah raced through yet again but shot wide. Stocker had a free-kick saved by Friedel, before substitute Jacques Zoua and then Steinhofer went close. A third goal would have been damaging but Bale’s added time injury may prove to be even worse.
Booked: Tottenham Gallas, Parker. Basel F Frei .
Man of the match Stocker.
Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Tottenham 51%. Basle 49%.
Attempts on target: Tottenham 6. Basel 6.
Referee M Mazic (Serb).
* Second leg Thu 11 April, St Jakob Park.
Tottenham’s next three games:
Sunday Everton (h) Premier League
11 Apr Basel (a) Europa League
21 Apr Man City (h) Premier League