Tottenham Hotspur FC have been "a breath of fresh air" for the UEFA Champions League according to ex-England striker Gary Lineker, who has praised his former side's adventurous football as a "credit to the competition".
The top scorer at the 1986 FIFA World Cup and a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup winner with FC Barcelona in 1989, Lineker also won the FA Cup with Spurs in 1991 and has followed their fortunes this season at close hand. He believes Harry Redknapp's team warrant applause for the way they have chosen to play in their maiden UEFA Champions League campaign.
"I think Tottenham have been a breath of fresh air in the Champions League," the 50-year-old told UEFA.com. "I think that often teams can be a bit cagey and feel their way through but Spurs, for the first time in the Champions League group stages, have played this free-flowing, attack-minded, adventurous style of football with two wingers that has to be applauded. There have been loads of goals in all of Tottenham's games, and they've done brilliantly."
Along with north London rivals Arsenal FC, Spurs have been the competition's most prolific side, racking up 18 goals from a group campaign in which they scored six times against the reigning champions FC Internazionale Milano. "It was always going to be a tough but I think the nature of some of their performances has been the surprising thing," Lineker added of a team who have hit the ground running.
"Especially the two games against Inter, where in the first half at San Siro they looked out of their depth, but then came back so strongly. They showed great character, Gareth Bale was unbelievable. The matches at White Hart Lane have been amazing – great atmospheres, great spirit, the fans have been really up for it. And they've performed admirably."
Spurs had not graced Europe's top club competition since 1962 and Lineker believes that their absence has made the heart grow fonder. "The fans have been such a long time without European football that to actually get the chance to play in the major competition, the Champions League, for the first time has given all the supporters immense satisfaction. They are so enthusiastic about it – the noise and the vibrancy in the stadium is something to behold. European nights at White Hart Lane have always been special, but these ones... And wait until the knockout stage, it could be something else."
Spurs will next face Inter's neighbours, AC Milan, in the round of 16 with the first leg looming on 16 February. Lineker, who is this season's UEFA Champions League venue ambassador, believes London could well be represented at Wembley on 28 May. "We have got three London clubs competing to play in a London final in the Champions League, and it would be really special if one of them could do it.
"I think the most likely has to be Chelsea, they're very strong and powerful; they've been through a bit of a wobble of late, but they've had a few injuries. By the time it gets to the knockout stages, I expect those players will be back firing again, the Lampards, the Essiens, the Terrys of this world. So I think they're probably the best equipped. And I also think for Chelsea it's getting towards the stage now where they probably really need to do it because they are an ageing team. It's not quite 'last-chance saloon', but getting close to it."
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