Tottenham Hotspur host Panathinaikos on Thursday (8.05pm GMT, live on ITV4) knowing that a draw would be good enough to see them through to the knockout stages of the Europa League.
Spurs are second in Group J going into the final round of matches, two points shy of leaders Lazio and two points ahead of their opponents in this match. Maribor are bottom of the group and are no longer in contention to qualify.
Tottenham still have an opportunity to top the group if they beat Panathinaikos and Lazio lose away to Maribor, but qualification is the primary objective, and one that they will be confident of achieving.
Andre Villas-Boas’ men are currently undefeated in the Europa League, with four draws and one victory to their credit. The performances have rarely been scintillating, but their points haul has put them in a strong position to progress.
Villas-Boas has treated the competition with more reverence that his predecessor Harry Redknapp, putting out strong sides in all of their matches. He won the competition at the helm of FC Porto in 2011. When took the job at Spurs, he said that he wanted them to compete for silverware on all fronts.
The Portuguese coach took a little time to get things working, but three wins on the bounce domestically have seen Spurs move up to fourth in the Premier League table, level on points with Chelsea. There are signs that, after a period of adaptation, the players are warming to his techniques.
Gareth Bale, particularly, has been in excellent form in recent weeks, while Jermain Defoe continues to score at an impressive rate, bagging two more goals in the 3-0 win over Fulham on Saturday. Bale will, however, miss the next couple of weeks of action due to a hamstring injury picked up in that victory and his incisive pace will certainly be missed.
Emmanuel Adebayor is likely to get a run out on Thursday to regain match fitness following his three-match domestic ban for his sending off against Arsenal and will be keen to get amongst the goals in an attempt to get the home supporters back on side.
Tottenham have the likes of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Younes Kaboul and Scott Parker to return from injury and provided they do, as expected, progress to the knockout stages, will have a strong squad capable of challenging domestically and in Europe.
Panathinaikos have lost both of their previous two away matches in the group without scoring and are therefore unlikely to be high on confidence ahead of the trip to White Hart Lane.
They did at least win on travels at the weekend, defeating Panionios 2-1 to move up to sixth in the Greek Super League thanks to goals from Antonios Petropoulos and Loukas Vyntra.
It was the club’s fourth win in five matches in all competitions following the resignation of Portuguese coach Jesualdo Ferreira and appointment of Juan Ramon Rocha. It is Rocha’s third spell in charge of the club that he led to the semi-final stage of the 1995/96 Champions League. His arrival has precipitated an upturn in form following just two wins in the final 15 matches of Ferreira’s reign.
Panathinaikos’ 1-0 win at home to Maribor in the penultimate round of group stage matches kept them in contention to qualify, but Rocha will have to be at his inspirational best to draw another winning performance from his charges in this match.
The two teams drew 1-1 in Greece in early October. Spurs led at half-time through a Michael Dawson header but put in an unduly deferential second half performance, eventually conceding the inevitable late equaliser when Toche finished coolly inside the area.
Spurs v Panathinaikos Betting Tips
Villas-Boas will have seen little to unduly worry him in the first meeting between the sides. There is little reason to suggest that Spurs will not confirm their place in the Europa League knockout stages with a comfortable victory at White Hart Lane.
- Back Spurs -1.5 on an Asian Handicap @ best odds of 19/20 at BetVictor.
- Adebayor has a large debt to repay to the Spurs supporters and will be determined to commence his redemption by scoring in front of them here. Back Emmanuel Adebayor to score at anytime @ evens with Blue Square. If that price goes then it is next best at 10/11 with Betfred.