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As the free-scoring newcomers who got the better of holders FC Internazionale Milano, Tottenham Hotspur FC provided one of the most attractive sub-plots of the UEFA Champions League group stage.
The London side must now try to outdo Inter's neighbours, AC Milan, in the last 16 but according to striker Peter Crouch, the return to San Siro on 15 February holds no fears for a side infused with belief by their manager, Harry Redknapp. Tottenham were in the Premier League's relegation places when Redknapp replaced Juande Ramos in October 2008; by last May they had secured their highest finish for 20 years and, Crouch says, are determined to not just go far in this season's UEFA Champions League, but to become an established presence among the elite.
Reflecting on Spurs' rising fortunes, Crouch tells UEFA.com: "It's got to be a lot down to the manager. I think Tottenham have been underachieving for a long time. The manager has come in and obviously he has added to the squad but I think he's just got us playing how we should've been, really. We're competing for the Champions League places, and people are even talking about us winning the league at some stage, and I think that will happen.
"The manager has got us believing in ourselves, and we'd like to think that we can finish in that top four and get in the Champions League year in, year out," adds Crouch. "We've beaten Inter Milan, we've played some great games so far.
I don't think we have anything to fear. We will go to Milan and play the way we always do, and look to get the win."
The statistics underline the attack-minded strategy Tottenham have adopted in the UEFA Champions League – they were the group stage's 18-goal top scorers, alongside neighbours Arsenal FC, and have scored at least twice in each match, play-offs included. Crouch believes Spurs' success should surprise nobody given their squad's depth and quality. "I've had the experience of the Champions League before, playing for Liverpool. And this squad is as good if not better than that squad."
It was against Milan that Crouch suffered a UEFA Champions League final defeat with Liverpool FC in 2007. He appeared for the last 12 minutes of a frustrating night in Athens. "We played with one up front, and I thought we could have maybe gone at them a bit more. I was a bit frustrated to be on the bench." If Rafael Benítez, his Liverpool manager "was cautious at times", Redknapp is quite the opposite. "He just loves to see good players attacking."
Yet for all the optimism, there is still room for improvement. "There have been a couple of times where we haven't started well in games and we've had to come from goals down. If we can cut that out, I think there's no limit really to what we can achieve."
It certainly looked that way on the night Spurs beat Inter 3-1 to take charge of Group A. Crouch said Tottenham went into that game buoyed by Gareth Bale's second-half hat-trick a fortnight earlier at San Siro – transforming a match in which they had trailed 4-0. "That gave us confidence, really, to go into the next game at home with a lot more belief."
Inter could not live with Spurs back at White Hart Lane as "we took the game to them, and played it at a Premiership pace". Bale produced another virtuoso display which made the Wales winger, in particular, the talk of Europe. "
He's fantastic, such a great athlete, a great left foot, he can score goals and he can create them," says Crouch.
Spurs' triumph over Inter revived memories of Tottenham's famous 'glory, glory' nights of the early 1960s when Bill Nicholson's team reached the 1961/62 European Champion Clubs' Cup semi-finals and lifted the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup the next season. "Electric" is how Crouch describes the White Hart Lane atmosphere, and he goes on to stress the desire to emulate the heroes of yesteryear. "The club's got a great history. I know the history and a lot of the lads know because you are reminded of it when you see the pictures hanging round White Hart Lane. They are the type of people you want to emulate. If we can be as successful as them, then that's what we are trying to achieve."
Could they even go one better than their European Cup forebears and reach the final? After all, it takes place close to home, at Wembley Stadium on 28 May. "We have beaten the holders already, and I think we look comfortable in this competition. Certainly at home I genuinely believe we can beat anybody, so why not believe that we can win it?"
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