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Resurgent Tottenham ready to reap rewards

Wednesday 5 December 2012 20.29 CET
André Villas-Boas's Tottenham have won their last three matches

Tottenham Hotspur FC manager André Villas-Boas is targeting a continuation of his team's recent impressive form by reaching the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League.

Spurs will contest their 100th game in the competition when Panathinaikos FC come calling on Thursday and a draw will be sufficient to take the hosts into the last 32 from Group J alongside S.S. Lazio. Villas-Boas is aiming to mark the occasion with a fourth straight win in all competitions as his side persist in flourishing under the pressure of balancing European commitments with progress on the home front.

"We want to continue to take this competition as seriously as we have," said the 35-year-old Portuguese, whose team rose to fourth in the Premier League with a 3-0 victory at Fulham FC on Saturday. "I recall some good performances in the league after Europa League games so we firmly believe this competition can be approached in a different way. We hope we can go though, that is the main focus, and it will mean a lot for the way we have embraced this competition."

Although the influential Gareth Bale and Michael Dawson will miss the match at White Hart Lane through injury, there are plenty of other talents capable of maintaining the momentum which has carried Tottenham up the table in recent weeks. "Great players are missed and Gareth is no exception but I have other options," said Villas-Boas. "Clint Dempsey has done well on the left, Moussa Dembélé is a major player for us who drives us forwards, and Jermain Defoe is amazing. He is going through a good moment in his career, is extremely motivated and a great professional, and it is good to see him deliver so much."

The Greek outfit's 1-0 home success over NK Maribor last time out kept them in the hunt for second spot, however, and Villas-Boas is wary of their threat after they wrested a 1-1 draw from his charges in the reverse fixture on matchday two. "Panathinaikos have put themselves in a great position," he added. "They have come back from the dead. But we've done excellently in this group phase, we are proud of the competition and if we go through it will be a great opportunity."

Panathinaikos coach Juan Ramón Rocha, a Spurs fan since the 1970s, knows it would be an unheralded achievement if they could claim the victory they require to qualify – with Tottenham currently two points above his team. "The players and myself believe we can do it but we are realists – Tottenham are one of the best clubs in England and we have huge respect for them," he said. "I took over 20 days ago and have not had much time to stamp my authority but Panathinaikos are not a side who win playing defensively. We want to play attacking, creative, entertaining football and that is our plan going forwards, not just for tomorrow."

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