COMMENTARY | Regardless of your feelings on the competition, nobody can deny that Tottenham Hotspur went all-in on Thursday night's Europa League showdown with Basel.
With Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe all sidelined due to injury, Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas sent just about his best lineup out onto the pitch for the do-or-die contest against the Swiss outfit. The visitors eventually settled into the match and then opened the scoring in the 23rd minute thanks to a defensive miscue, but a mistake on the other end of the field gifted Basel with an equalizer. Tottenham then showed true heart in rallying back from behind and scoring an equalizer of their own eight minutes from time, and they refused to get broken down when playing with only ten men during all of extra time after Jan Vertonghen was justifiably sent off minutes before the end of regulation.
Truth be told, nobody wearing Lilywhite outside of Gylfi Sigurdsson looked all that confident once the shootout began. Such "it's just not our day" fears were realized when Tom Huddlestone, Tottenham's first penalty taker, saw his rocket strike get denied by Basel goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Spurs now have nine total full days to rest up and prepare for the April 21 Premier League match against Manchester City, one that will likely be looked at as a "must-win" game for Tottenham.
That's nine full days to recover from the harshest loss of the season. "No defeat," an old coach told me many years ago, "is more painful than one that comes after you've given your all for 120 minutes." Anybody seeking for confirmation of that statement need only go back and look at the faces of the Tottenham players as the Basel squad celebrated their victory. Spurs were truly in it to win it, and their physical and emotional pain could be felt through the television screen.
That's nine full days to get rested and healthy. I'm not just talking about the key men mentioned in the first paragraph of this piece. Moussa Dembele appeared to be carrying a knock from the start of play on Thursday, and he was unable to go an hour before he was replaced by Tom Carroll. Michael Dawson, who was heroic in the defensive third during extra time, put in a full shift and could certainly use several days off.
That's nine full days to appreciate the best of the best of the Spurs squad. AVB went with veteran goalkeeper Brad Friedel and not first-choice 'keeper Hugo Lloris, and Friedel probably should have done better in both of the situations that ended with Basel finding the back of the net. Kyle Naughton just cannot start at left back against top opponents if at all possible, leaving Benoit Assou-Ekotto as the man who should have that position locked up through May. The previously mentioned Carroll was fantastic, so much so that he should leap ahead of Lewis Holtby in AVB's squad rotation.
That's nine full days to sit back and watch Arsenal and Everton play three league matches. As much as some Tottenham supporters may not want to admit it, those at the club really have no business looking at the teams above of Spurs in the table. Arsenal leaping ahead of Spurs before April 21 seems inevitable. It's also very possible that Everton could, depending on how they perform over the next nine days, drop Tottenham to sixth place in the table.
That's nine days to once more rally behind the mantra that is also becoming a yearly tradition for Tottenham: Champions League or bust. Last year, Spurs failed to recover from the 5-2 loss to Arsenal at the Emirates and from being trounced in the FA Cup semifinal by Chelsea. The job done by AVB following Thursday night's gut-punch defeat could determine what happens with Bale this summer, and also where Villas-Boas is working come next August.
The final stretch of the season starts on April 21, Tottenham Hotspur. Be ready.
Zac has been covering Tottenham Hotspur, Major League Soccer, RBNY, the USMNT and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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