Spurs, Magpies leave with heads high

BY Jonathan Wilson • April 11, 2013

It was another night of disappointment for Premier League clubs in a season that has been full of then. Of the three in action in the quarterfinals, only Chelsea went through, as Newcastle United battled bravely but futilely against Benfica and Tottenham Hotspur – yet again – lost a penalty shootout to go out to FC Basel.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said he would fancy his side to get the two goals it needed to beat Benfica – despite the Portuguese side not having lost since October. When Papiss Cisse headed in a Shola Ameobi cross to give Newcastle a 70th-minute lead, it seemed Pardew was some kind of soothsayer. There was another goal but it went to the away team, Eduardo Salvio turning in Oscar Cardozo’s low cross to make it 1-1 and complete a 4-2 aggregate victory. As Salvio scored, Newcastle’s fans rose in applause – acknowledgement both of Benfica’s quality and of their own club’s achievement in getting this far.

There was no shame for Newcastle and no recombination for Pardew, who had accepted the limitations of his side and prepared his gameplan accordingly. Slowly, Newcastle became more attacking – the introduction of Hatem Ben Arfa gave added creative zest – and the gamble almost paid off. Newcastle’s will look at two disallowed goals – both correct decisions, the first much tighter than the second – and a chance Ben Arfa created with a darting run before shooting over as to explain their disappointment. Most of all, it will look to the first leg, when Cisse twice hit the post and Newcastle was undermined by a defensive howler from Davide Santon; given only two sides in the history of the competition had ever overturned a two-goal first-leg deficit.

“We nearly pulled it off,” said Pardew. “I honestly thought when Hatem cut inside we were going to do it. Just got too much on it and went over. We’ve gained experience from this run, we’ve been out of Europe for a while but we’ve put ourselves back on the stage, we’re out of this now but the only way we can get back in it is to qualify next season and we’ve got a squad good enough to do that.

“You have to put it into context what we are – the financial restrictions we have are greater than the top clubs in this country but that doesn’t mean we can’t win anything. It was a terrific night even in defeat.”

Spurs was always up against it after a 2-2 draw in the first leg but after a topsy-turvy game it seemed to have the momentum needed to break the dullness when Jan Vertonghen was sent off. Aleksandar Dragovic slipped in trying to cut out a through-ball after 23 minutes, allowing Clint Dempsey in to round the goalkeeper and put Tottenham ahead. But Basel was level within four minutes as the young Egyptian Mohamed Salah capitalized on a heavy touch from Mousa Dembele on the edge of the box. After the break, Dragovic put Basel ahead as Brad Friedel spilled Fabian Schar’s flick four minutes into the second half. With eight minutes remaining, Dempsey notched his second from a long floated pass from Tom Huddlestone.

It was all for naught though as Vertonghen clipped Marco Streller’s heels and was dismissed for a professional foul. Spurs held out through extra-time for penalties yet failed as they generally do during pressure shootout situations. It had lost six in a row stretching back to 1994 and it made seven as Huddlestone’s kick was saved by Yann Sommer and Emmanuel Adebayor blasted high over the bar.

"We are disappointed not to go through because we had high ambitions for the competition," Andre Villas-Boas told ITV1. "My first thoughts are for the players because they set for the country a great, great example.

"The way they have played in the Europa League this season, the way they have approached it, the way they played every Thursday and every Sunday, the commitment that they made to the competition showed the country that it was possible to approach it in a different way."

Chelsea, on the other hand, never really looked like going out in an all but empty Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The Blues did not have as easy night as it might have liked against Rubin Kazan and there was a moment, with quarter of an hour to go, when there was just the semblance of a threat that the Russians might pull off an unlikely comeback.

Fernando Torres had latched onto a Frank Lampard pass to beat Sergei Ryzhikov as he came flying from his goal after just five minutes, a strike that, by matching Rubin’s away goal from the first leg, seemed effectively to end the tie. Marcano headed Rubin level on the night six minutes after halftime, before Victor Moses restored the three-goal margin, this time with an additional away goal. Gokdeniz Karadeniz would later capitalize on some lax defending to head Rubin level and Brebras Natcho converted a penalty to leave Rubin Kazin 15 minutes to score two goals.

It got neither and never really looked like doing so. Though they secured a semifinals ticket, Chelsea’s defensive shortcomings are a concern as is the fact it has now won just two of its last 11 games in all competitions.

"I was happy with the first half, but we have to improve on our second half performance," said Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez. "I'm disappointed because we didn't defend well in the second half. It is not just the defenders who have to improve, because it is the whole team who defends. We have to carefully analyze our defending by watching the match video.”

The semifinal lineup is completed by Fenerbahce who, like Chelsea and Benfica, endured a brief moment of concern before progressing with relative ease. It too held a two-goal lead from the first leg but when Senad Lulic converted Antonio Candreva’s cross after an hour, it seemed under pressure. Caner Erkin, though, settled the tie with a low shot after 73 minutes to seal Fenerbahce’s first ever progress to the last four of a European competition.

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