Tottenham Hotspur FC may have suffered a comprehensive quarter-final defeat by Real Madrid CF, but their experiences in this season's UEFA Champions League have left them hungry for more, according to Gareth Bale.
The Welsh winger – who provided one of the performances of the season with his group stage hat-trick at FC Internazionale Milano – underlined the determination in the Tottenham camp to make sure they return to the UEFA Champions League next season and build on their achievements in 2010/11.
Spurs, who lost 1-0 at home to Madrid and 5-0 on aggregate, had not competed in Europe's elite club competition since reaching the semi-finals in 1961/62, but they gave their fans a memorable journey from play-offs to the last eight, recording famous wins against Inter and AC Milan en route.
It has been a huge part of our season and has been great for everybody involved in the club – all the players, the fans, everybody," Bale told UEFA.com. "Now we are out of the Champions League it is time to concentrate on the Premier League and we know we can achieve fourth again. We are not far off now – we are three points behind with a game in hand on [fourth-placed Manchester] City.
"The club is a massive club; we've shown that this year, that we can compete in a major competition. Now we have to qualify for the Champions League again, which will not be easy, but we will be fully focused on that now."
Bale admitted that Madrid had made life difficult for Spurs on Wednesday night with their ability to retain possession, albeit noting that the real damage had already been done by last week's 4-0 first-leg loss. "It was a tough task even before we got on the pitch," he said. "It was one of them where we had to play for pride in the end. It was always going to have to be a miracle to get through.
"They knew they had to come here and just keep the ball and not give us too many chances. We had a few chances at the start, we had a few penalty claims, but they kept the ball well all night and did what they needed to do."
Mingled with the disappointment, however, was a sense of pride that Spurs had made their mark in Europe once more – a feeling evidently shared by the supporters who clapped them off at the final whistle.
Bale added: "We can take great pride. I don't think people even thought we'd qualify, but we then came through the group and qualified as winners and I don't think anybody expected us to get that far. We knocked AC Milan out and were all looking forward to Real Madrid and it went a bit pear-shaped for us away from home, but in this game tonight we didn't do ourselves any harm."
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