When Tottenham Hotspur FC last got the better of Milanese opponents, in their 3-1 win over FC Internazionale Milano in the UEFA Champions League group stage in November, it was on the back of some scintillating attacking football epitomised by Gareth Bale's brilliance on the left flank.
By contrast, their round of 16 triumph over AC Milan on Wednesday was built on obdurate defence. With Bale on the bench for three-quarters of the contest and Spurs sitting back and defending their 1-0 advantage from the first leg, it was a night when Harry Redknapp's men showed that "Tottenham can defend", according to centre-half William Gallas.
"We defended very hard," Gallas said. "During 90 minutes we tried to score, but it was not easy because they played very well. Sometimes you can't play your football but tonight we showed everybody we can defend as well."
It was the Frenchman who denied Milan their clearest scoring opportunity when stopping Robinho's deflected shot on the goal line after 25 minutes yet for all Milan's possession (58% to Spurs' 42%), Gallas and Co limited Massimiliano Allegri's visitors to only three shots on target in what was the English side's third stalemate this season.
According to Sandro, a hugely impressive performer in the Tottenham midfield, the Londoners' approach was affected by the wish to protect their first-leg lead. "We knew we had the advantage and we played with that thought in our heads. Thankfully we managed to get through," said the Brazilian. "We wanted to play but couldn't manage it. Milan are a team who have a lot of quality but thankfully we managed to contain them and their attacks."
Tottenham had scored 14 goals in four previous home games in the competition but produced just one shot on target against Milan. They lacked their usual fluency in attack and, according to Gallas, "didn't press them like we should have done". Yet a defence that had leaked three goals in successive Premier League matches against bottom-six sides Blackpool FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC shut out the Serie A leaders.
Gallas suggested that the size of the task against the Rossoneri ensured Spurs' defenders were switched on from the outset. "Before the match starts in your head you tell yourself they are better," he said. "When you play a team like Blackpool or Wolves, you think you are better and unfortunately you pay – it's a lack of experience."
Having come out on top against both Milan clubs, the UEFA Champions League newcomers are now just one step away from emulating their 1961/62 predecessors who reached the European Champion Clubs' Cup semi-finals.
Sandro revealed he was dreaming of going even further. "It is a possibility, a dream too for me to reach the final of the best competition in the world but we've got to think about the next game," he said. That said, the quarter-final draw on Friday week will hold no fears. "We got past Milan so why can't we get past other big clubs too?"
©UEFA.com 1998-2013. All rights reserved.