PARIS, France, March 14 – Tottenham suffered a fright before sneaking past Inter Milan to reach the Europa League quarter-finals as they, Chelsea and Newcastle restored national pride following England’s Champions League misery.
Fernando Torres struck the winner as Chelsea then 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 last 16 stage of Europe’s premier club competition, it was left to the Europa League participants to maintain English interest in European football 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,” said Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas.
“We are happy to go through. The players kept fighting in extra-time, showing they wanted it.”
Without the suspended Gareth Bale, they 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 a team that 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 as 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 as Palacio ran backline onto Esteban Cambiasso’s through ball before calmly beating 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’s thigh, before trickling into the net.
But in extra-time Inter soon cracked as Samir Handanovic couldn’t hold Mousa Dembele’s stinging strike with Emmanuel Adebayor poking 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 half-time, Chelsea needed two more goals 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 home 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,” said Newcastle centre-back Steven Taylor.
Libor Kozak scored a hat-trick as Lazio completed a comfortable 5-1 aggregate win over Stuttgart with a 3-1 win in Rome.
Benfica knocked out Bordeaux 4-2 on aggregate while Rubin Kazan beat Levante 2-0 and Basel went through 2-1 against Zenit St Petersburg despite a 1-0 defeat.
Fenerbahce joined Champions League quarter-finalists Galatasaray in extending Istanbul’s interest in European competition as they completed a 2-1 aggregate victory over Viktoria Plzen with a 1-1 home draw.