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10 Mar 2011

Guts brought the glory. One of the greatest evenings in the long history of Tottenham Hotspur saw a performance not rooted in traditional crowd-pleasing flair but in resilience, in a determination to resist AC Milan's constant attacks.

Spurs protected the goal Peter Crouch scored in the San Siro with their lives, defending with resolve and intelligence to survive an often nervy 90 minutes.

Even when Pato began to test the strength of their back-line, Spurs stood firm. Even when Alexander Merkel came on to remind Europe of his rich potential, Tottenham refused to yield.

When Milan did manage to get past the indefatigable Sandro, a marvellous resistance movement in midfield, they ran into the indomitable Michael Dawson and William Gallas. They ran into a human wall that would not be moved.

Make no mistake; this was a fierce examination of Spurs' qualities. This was a Milan far removed from the static, unimaginative, fractious first-leg hosts. This was a Milan who remembered their heritage, who played with belief and adventure, particularly when the ball was at the clever feet of Pato.

There was more vim in Milan's movement, more belief. Clarence Seedorf, who looked 50 in the San Siro, looked 20 here and bossed midfield for long periods.

Still Spurs would not wilt. A team that has scored 25 goals in its previous nine European games this season can never be accused of being negative; last night simply showed their other traits, their mettle, their togetherness.

Never can a stalemate here have been so rapturously celebrated. This was Spurs in dream-land, in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

As the players swapped shirts, respect etched in every handshake, tens of thousands of fans with cockerels on their chests crowed: "Are you watching, Arsenal?'' Probably not. Too painful. Particularly with Gallas so prominent.

As Arsenal deal with the toxic fall-out from their meltdown by the Med, Spurs took a stride closer to the Wembley final.

Nobody can begrudge them their progress. Winning at San Siro, a deserved victory, was an impressive feat. Winning through to the last eight with their best player, Gareth Bale, on the pitch for only 24 minutes was a reminder of their strength of resources in personality and personnel.

If the praise for this will be spread amongst Redknapp and his players, and the chairman Daniel Levy in bankrolling the building of such a strong squad, then Tottenham fans should also take a bow.

For with 10 minutes remaining, and with Milan waxing and Spurs waning, the home supporters lifted Redknapp's tiring players with a rousing rendition of "Come On You Spurs". It was sung with a visceral intensity, a deep belief that their team could come through this late Milan storm.

The players responded to the exhortations. Benoit Assou-Ekotto put in an immense tackle on Pato. Dawson continued to relish his duel with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Sandro nicked the ball and triggered quick little counters. Vedran Corluka looked exhausted, yet he rallied, lifted by the supporters.

As team and terraces combined, Tottenham's manager looked on proudly. This European odyssey really is an astonishing achievement by Redknapp, a journey into the Champions League unknown that has brought the best out of him and his players.

Talk about a rollercoaster. Spurs have been 3-0 down to Young Boys Berne and 4-0 down to Inter Milan yet here they are, the first Premier League side into the last eight. Tottenham's hunger for Europe is unmistakable.

On a very special night at the Lane, the noise was deafening from the first whistle, slipping into brief lulls as nerves bit deep, but still the support was strong. Invective filled the air at times, particularly when the ball was close to Mathieu Flamini, who felt Spurs' wrath for his Arsenal connections and for almost snapping Corluka in two at the San Siro.

The scale of Spurs' evening work was soon evident. Flamini, Seedorf and Kevin-Prince Boateng patrolled midfield, cramping Rafael van der Vaart's style. Upfront, Milan's three attackers, Robinho and Pato nimbly supporting Ibrahimovic, began to live up to their famous names.

And so it began, part siege, part carnival. When Robinho fell under Assou-Ekotto's challenge, far too easily for local tastes, Sandro reacted sharply to clear Pato's poor free-kick. Then Ibrahimovic unleashed a 35-yard free-kick, demanding a save at full stretch from Gomes.

Spurs were under sustained pressure, Sandro fighting fires in the centre. Spurs willingly sustained pain in pursuit of the ball, Gallas accidentally caught in the head by Ibrahimovic's boot.

Still the visitors flowed forward, streaks of red and black across the green of White Hart Lane. Robinho darted down the right, slipping the ball in to Pato, whose shot was blocked by Dawson.

When Pato then dribbled down the inside-left channel, Gomes ran out, Brazil versus Brazil. Pato won, leaving his compatriot on the deck with the goal vulnerable.

Pato cut the ball back to another Brazilian, Robinho, whose shot caught Assou-Ekotto and dropped goalwards only for Gallas to clear from under the bar.

Opportunity did knock for Spurs, albeit quietly. Van der Vaart enjoyed their best two chances of the half, a free-kick that flew just over and then a low drive that thudded into Christian Abbiati's midriff.

Milan also had a marvellous chance, the ball shifting between Robinho and Ibrahimovic before Pato almost beat Gomes.

Spurs began the second half in far more assertive fashion. Aaron Lennon was quick to show, lifting spirits and crosses. Lennon's threat was now obvious, soon confirmed when poleaxed by Marek Jankulovski. Flamini then caught Assou-Ekotto, triggering much glee when he was booked.

The tension was unremitting. Robinho, Pato and Robinho again tested Gomes in a mad scramble. Then the Cardiff cavalry arrived, Bale greeted with a huge cheer by the Spurs fans and with a late challenge from Flamini.

With 14 minutes left, Merkel also came on, linking well with Pato, whose shot found the side-netting. As the last few minutes seemed reluctant to go, some Spurs supporters almost could not bear to watch. But they could sing.

And then came the chant, sweeping Spurs on a tide of emotion into the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Great night.

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