It is as though Tottenham have a psychosis that leads them always to undermine their own chances. Their hopes of reaching a first European semi-final in 23 years were in effect over within eight minutes on Thursday night, as they conceded two early goals on their way to a 2-2 draw and a 4-3 aggregate defeat.
What will frustrate them is that the wounds were largely self-inflicted. Injuries had left their defence with a patched-up look, with the midfielder Teemu Tainio filling in at right-back and the right-back Pascal Chimbonda on the left. Add to that the return in the centre of Ledley King for his first game since Boxing Day, and a little confusion might have been expected.
The first goal, though, had nothing to do with a reshuffle of the defensive shape, and everything to do with an aberration from Steed Malbranque.
Christian Poulsen probably met Jose Luis Marti’s third-minute corner a little more easily than Tottenham would have liked, but there seemed little danger as his header fell towards Malbranque a yard in front of the line. It looked the simplest of clearances, but he miskicked badly, slicing the ball into his own net.
The second was sumptuous, but again Tottenham had a degree of responsibility. They were static as Fredi Kanoute collected a quick throw-in on the right, exchanged a tight one-two with Alexander Kerzhakov and then, with marvellous impudence, sidestepped Paul Robinson and rolled the ball into the empty net.
That left Spurs needing to score four. Even without the lamentable time-wasting and spoiling into which Sevilla lapsed and the pernicketiness of Konrad Plautz, the Austrian referee, that never seemed vaguely plausible – or at least not until the midpoint of the second half, when Spurs from nowhere found two goals within a minute to raise hopes of the most improbable of comebacks.
They deserve credit for continuing the fight, but the question is: why are they so self-destructive? Dimitar Berbatov hit a post with a shot on the turn just before half-time. But even after Spurs had begun to dominate possession after the break, Sevilla seemed in control.
It was the introduction of Jermain Defoe that changed things. His first act was to jog into the box for a free-kick; his second was to touch home Robbie Keane’s drive after Kanoute had half-cleared. A minute later Andreas Hinkel’s clearance hit Keane and Aaron Lennon poked into the bottom corner.
The cavalry charge was spirited but in vain. Berbatov twice went close and Michael Dawson bounced a volley over the bar. But the dream final ended as Teemu Tainio was sent off in injury-time for thrusting his studs into Antonio Puerta’s knee.
Sevilla face Osasuna in the semi-finals while a third Spanish club, Espanyol, and Werder Bremen complete the last four.
■ Celtic players Artur Boruc, Shunsuke Nakamura and Lee Naylor were named among the four contenders for the Scottish Professional Footballers’ Association’s Player of the Year award. Aberdeen captain Russell Anderson emerged as the only rival to the Celtic trio after all votes were processed, and the winner will be named on April 22.
Celtic winger Aiden McGeady has been selected as one of the four players in contention for the Young Player of the Year prize. His rivals will be Rangers midfielder Charlie Adam, Hibernian’s Scott Brown and Kilmarnock striker Steven Naismith.
Sunderland announced a sponsorship deal with Ireland’s biggest independent bookmaker that could be worth in excess of £10m. Boylesports has agreed a four-year, performance-related partnership with the Championship leaders that could eventually amount to an eight-figure sum.
Reading manager Steve Coppell has admitted he expects midfielder Steve Sidwell to leave the Madejski Stadium this summer. The 24-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and while Coppell would wish to retain the services of one of the club’s driving forces, he believes the lure of playing for one of the Premiership’s big clubs could tempt Sidwell.
Coppell said: “I anticipate that he won’t be here next year so we will have to chop and change in the midfield department. This is an exciting time for him and I’m sure a lot of clubs would love to sign him.”