Harry rides into Europe for next big test

LONDON - Tottenham Hotspur have long maintained they belong in the European football elite and after their tension-filled 1-0 victory over Manchester City on Wednesday they finally have the chance to prove it.

Peter Crouch's late header at Eastlands in what was effectively the winner-take-all match for fourth place in the Premier League, saw Spurs book their place in the Champions League qualifiers for the first time.

Indeed they could even go straight into the Champions League itself in third spot should they win at Burnley on Sunday and arch London rivals Arsenal lose at home to Europa League finalists Fulham; admittedly an unlikely double.

The last time Spurs played in Europe's top competition was when they reached the semi-finals of the 1961-62 European Cup and after years of false dawns, near misses and mid-table anonymity, they are now close to a return.

That has not just delighted Spurs fans, many too young to remember their "Glory Glory Nights" of the early 1960s, but neutrals too - happy to see an English manager leading a team that could send as many as five English players to the World Cup next month.

Finishing fourth would represent a huge achievement for Harry Redknapp who has transformed the club's fortunes since he took over in October 2008 when Spurs were bottom of the league after their worst ever start to a season.

ICY WATER

Redknapp, before being drenched by a bucket of iced water by his celebrating players as he gave a live post-match TV interview, told reporters: "We only had two points and were bottom of the league when I came here last season and it took us a long time to get out of it.

"So to be where we are now is fantastic. We have played some great football this season and I think we have been a pleasure to watch. This was a big year for us to do this and it will be great to be in Europe.

"I thought City were the only club who could break into the top four. I thought we could come sixth or seventh, but happily I was wrong."

Spurs took a different route to City in trying to break into the big time. Both clubs have long lived in the shadow of hugely successful neighbours but Spurs have nurtured English players under an English manager.

Defenders Ledley King and Michael Dawson, midfielders Tom Huddlestone and Aaron Lennon and strikers Crouch and Jermain Defoe could all feature in England manager Fabio Capello's squad for the World Cup.

Two more England internationals Jermaine Jenas and David Bentley were among the substitutes, who also included Russian international striker Roman Pavlyuchenko and defender Sebastien Bassong, World Cup-bound with Cameroon.

STRONG SQUAD

Spurs now have what every top side needs: a strong squad and Redknapp appears to be able to keep them all happy - even the ones not starting regularly.

Redknapp's ability to bring the best out of players who were floundering before his arrival, was one of the reasons Spurs wanted him as their manager.

Despite their well-documented financial problems, Redknapp transformed Portsmouth's Premier League prospects and brought that club their first major honour for 58 years when he led them to victory in the FA Cup in 2008.

Ironically Spurs' shock defeat to Portsmouth in last month's FA Cup semi-final proved the catalyst to Spurs clinching their tilt at the Champions League.

Redknapp picked the team off the floor and opted for high-tempo attacking tactics which brought victories over Arsenal and Chelsea within a week of that defeat.

Those wins and the character shown in beating Manchester City, hint that, even with his current squad, Spurs will not be out of place if they make next season's Champions League group stage despite some potentially awkward opponents.

The squad is also likely to be strengthened significantly with top quality signings - they still lack goalkeeping cover and need a right-back - now that Spurs can offer Europe's best the possibility of Champions League football at White Hart Lane.

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