Clint Dempsey excited about European run with Spurs
CLINT Dempsey hopes to make up for his Europa League heartbreak with Fulham by lifting the trophy with Tottenham.
Dempsey wrote himself in to Fulham folklore in March 2010 when he came off the bench at Craven Cottage and scored a delightful chip that sealed a shock comeback win over Juventus in the last 16 of the Europa League.
The west London club started the competition that year back in July and came through 18 matches before succumbing to Atletico Madrid in the final.
Dempsey, who moved to Tottenham on transfer deadline day, cites the run as one of the highlights of his career, and he now hopes he can go one better with his new employers.
"It was tough for us to get all that way and not win the final, but it was a great experience and I'm sure everyone on that team will remember it," Dempsey said ahead of Spurs' clash against Panathinaikos tonight.
"We had luck then and we need that now, but we do have a lot of quality in this team.
"As long as everyone is working hard and focused, you always have a chance.
"And with the quality we have, I can't see why we can't go all the way and win it."
Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas, who won the competition with Porto two seasons ago, said yesterday that he was baffled as to why the Europa League is not given more respect.
The competition is regarded in England as the Champions League's ugly sister.
Former boss Harry Redknapp described participating in the tournament as a "punishment", but Dempsey thinks it deserves more recognition.
"The prestige is there," the United States forward added. You get to play against some of best clubs in Europe. That's why we are all excited about the possibility of going on a run and doing something special."
For all his bravado for the Europa League, the American admits the prize he craves the most is Champions League football.
"Playing at the highest level possible is what you dream about as a kid growing up in a small town," the Texan added.
"You see these people on TV and you always push yourself because you want to try to get to that level.
"This club deserves to be in the Champions League really as they finished fourth last year. It was only because of a technicality that they didn't."
Spurs were unfortunate to draw their Group J opener against Lazio last month, but they are big favourites to take all three points from this evening's clash in the Greek capital.
Panathinaikos have won 20 Greek titles in their 104-year history, but they have found life tough of late, thanks mainly to several high-profile transfer flops and the recent economic crisis in Greece.
They are 12th in the Greek Super League after winning one of their opening five games and yesterday sacked their captain Kostas Katsouranis after he fell out with the club's president over disciplinary issues.
The 33-year-old midfielder, who has 98 caps, had been issued with a six-match domestic ban for insulting a referee in August's game against PAS Giannina.
Panathinaikos manager Jesualdo Ferreira tried to play down the significance of the sacking.
"Mr Katsouranis has been out of the team a lot anyway," said Ferreira, who managed Porto before Villas-Boas took over in 2010.
"He hasn't played much because of his suspension so questions about him don't have any depth or any important meaning for us."