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Tottenham Hotspur, Ajax advance to European Champions League tournament

Peter Crouch scores three goals as Tottenham Hotspur makes the tournament for the first time since 1962.

August 25, 2010|By Grahame L. Jones

Peter Crouch scored three goals on Wednesday to propel Tottenham Hotspur to a 4-0 victory over Young Boys of Switzerland and earned the London club a place in soccer's European Champions League competition for the first time since 1962.

While in Amsterdam on Wednesday, Ajax defeated Dynamo Kiev of Ukraine, 2-1, to return to Europe's premier club competition for the first time in five years.

In all, eight teams survived the final qualifying hurdle this week to join the 24 who had qualified directly for the 32-team tournament.

Chances are, midfielder Mbark Boussoufa will not be sitting down in front of his television in Brussels on Thursday evening and watching the draw take place in Monaco.

Chances are, midfielder Angelo Palombo, at home in Genoa, will similarly shun the glittering and all-important ceremony.

But Crouch will watch from London, and so, almost certainly, will Luis Suarez in Amsterdam.

If soccer is agony, Boussoufa and Palombo were its standard-bearers Tuesday night. If soccer is ecstasy, then Crouch and Suarez flew that flag Wednesday night.

It was the luckless Boussoufa who sent his penalty kick soaring into the Brussels night sky, high over the Partizan Belgrade crossbar. That miss, the last of three by Anderlecht in the shootout, caused the Belgian club to lose the game and thereby fail to qualify for the Champions League.

That, in turn, cost his club an estimated $20 million for just qualifying for the Champions League.

For Palombo, the drama was equally unbearable. His team, Sampdoria, also was playing at home and was leading, 3-0, deep into injury time when it allowed Werder Bremen to score. That tied the aggregate score and forced extra time.

The Germans scored again and that was that. No Champions League for Sampdoria.

"It hurts," Palombo told Sky Sports. "It was a dream and would have meant lots of money for the club."

For Crouch, the emotions were just the opposite after Tottenham Hotspur's win.

And for Suarez, last seen controversially stopping a shot with his hand on the goal line when Uruguay ousted Ghana in the World Cup quarterfinals, there was similar joy.

He scored the first goal as Ajax defeated Dynamo Kiev to reach the Champions League.

"This is really important for the club," the Uruguayan striker said. "It's been a long time since we made it to this stage. I am really happy."

In Monaco on Thursday evening, the 32 teams will be drawn into eight groups of four for round-robin play beginning next month.

There is immense prestige at stake, to be sure, but also a great deal of money.

When Italy's Inter Milan won the 2009-2010 tournament in Madrid in May, it cashed in to the tune of $62 million. Germany's Bayern Munich, which was the runner-up, improved its bank account by $57 million.

The seeding, therefore, is almost as important as the draw, and UEFA, European soccer's governing body, on Wednesday split the 32 teams, which include nine former European champions, into four pots ahead of the draw ceremony. Here is the breakdown, with the strongest teams in Pot 1, the second-strongest in Pot 2 and so on:

Pot 1: Inter Milan (Italy); Barcelona (Spain); Manchester United (England); Chelsea (England); Arsenal (England); Bayern Munich (Germany); AC Milan (Italy); Olympique Lyon (France).

Pot 2: Werder Bremen (Germany); Real Madrid (Spain); AS Roma (Italy); Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine); Benfica (Portugal); Valencia (Spain); Marseille (France); Panathinaikos (Greece).

Pot 3: Tottenham Hotspur (England); Rangers (Scotland); Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands); Schalke 04 (Germany); Basel (Switzerland); Braga (Portugal); Copenhagen (Denmark); Spartak Moscow (Russia).

Pot 4: Hapoel Tel Aviv (Israel); Twente Enschede (Netherlands); Rubin Kazan (Russia); Auxerre (France); CFR Cluj (Romania); Partizan Belgrade (Serbia); MSK Zilina (Slovakia); Bursaspor (Turkey).

Each of the eight groups will feature one team from each pot for round-robin play, with the top two teams in each of the groups advancing to the knockout phase next spring.

There are clubs that everyone wants to avoid — defending champion Inter Milan, 2009 champion Barcelona and 2008 champion Manchester United to mention only three.

But for Crouch, the bigger the opponent, the more there is to win.

"We want to get Inter Milan or Real Madrid and show the fans [in London] how good we are," he said after Wednesday's hat trick performance.

On Thursday evening, the Spurs striker might get his wish.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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