Tottenham Hotspur suffered a fright before sneaking past Inter to reach the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals as they, Chelsea and Newcastle United restored national pride following England’s Champions League misery.
Fernando Torres struck the winner as Chelsea joined their London rivals in the last eight after eliminating Steaua Bucharest, whilst Papiss Cisse scored with the last touch of the match, a header, to send Newcastle through as well.
With Manchester United and Arsenal beaten at the round-of-16 stage of Europe’s premier club competition, it was left to the Europa League participants to maintain English interest in European soccer this season and although they lost 4-1 on the night, Spurs went through on away goals thanks to last week’s 3-0 success at White Hart Lane.
“It’s a valuable lesson for us tonight, but we have players who can make a difference in the important moments,” Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas said. “We are happy to go through. The players kept fighting in extra-time, showing they wanted it.”
Without the suspended Gareth Bale, Tottenham made hard work of progressing as they needed extra-time to do so after trailing 3-0 when the 90 minutes were up.
Inter played like they had nothing to lose, and their lively front pairing of Antonio Cassano and Rodrigo Palacio, who both scored, caused Spurs trouble from the off.
It was little surprise when they took the lead when Palacio crossed for Cassano to head home.
Spurs knew an away goal was all that was needed to break the home side’s spirits, but they proved wasteful with the chances that came their way as Inter left gaps at the back in their eagerness to attack.
They were made to pay on 52 minutes when Palacio ran onto Esteban Cambiasso’s through ball, before calmly beating goalkeeper Brad Friedel.
With just a quarter of an hour remaining, Cassano’s weak and seemingly innocuous free-kick took a couple of deflections, the last off William Gallas’ thigh, before trickling into the net.
However, in extra-time Inter soon cracked when Samir Handanovic could not hold Mousa Dembele’s stinging strike and Emmanuel Adebayor poked home the rebound for a crucial away goal.
Ricardo Alvarez headed in a fourth for Inter from Cassano’s cross 10 minutes from time to ensure a thrilling tie kept everyone on tenterhooks right to the death.
Chelsea also made hard work of their qualification, despite a positive start in which Juan Mata gave them the lead.
They had lost the first leg in Romania 1-0 and when Vlad Chiriches scored a crucial away goal on the stroke of halftime, Chelsea needed two more to go through.
Captain John Terry led the way by restoring their advantage on the night, before Torres snatched the vital third, although he then missed a penalty which would have calmed the hosts’ nerves.
Goalkeeper Peter Cech said Sunday’s two-goal comeback at Manchester United in the FA Cup had given his side belief.
“When it went to 1-1 we had to score twice, but at the weekend we managed to get [back] a 2-0 deficit at Old Trafford, so we believed we would get the goals,” he said.
Newcastle and Anzhi Makhachkala played 180 minutes without scoring a goal, but deep into injury-time Senegal forward Cisse headed home a Sylvan Marveaux cross with time as good as up to send the English team through.
“It’s a massive result for this football club and this is where we belong,” Newcastle centerback Steven Taylor said.