Our European dreams ended in the most agonising fashion on a night of real drama in Basel, losing in a penalty shoot-out after the two sides couldn’t be separated at the end of 210 high-octane minutes of football.
Two goals from Clint Dempsey and strikes from Mohamed Salah and Aleksandar Dragovic ensured the game ended 2-2 at the end of 90 minutes, as it did at the Lane a week ago, and with no further goals in the extra half hour, a shoot-out was required to decide the outcome.
And it was the hosts who came out on top, winning the shoot-out 4-1 after Tom Huddlestone saw his effort saved and Emmanuel Adebayor fired his penalty over the bar. Gylfi Sigurdsson was our sole goalscorer.
Andre made two changes to the side which drew 2-2 with Everton in league action at the Lane on Sunday, with Brad Friedel replacing Hugo Lloris once again between the sticks in European competition, while Kyle Naughton came in for Steven Caulker in defence.
Despite the importance of the occasion and the fantastic atmosphere inside St Jakob’s Park, it was a fairly tame start to the match with both sides trying a series of long-range efforts to break the deadlock, little indication of the drama to come.
First it was Fabian Schar who tried his luck for the home side, but his 22-yard free-kick was always drifting past the upright. Then Dempsey fired a shot well wide, Salah volleyed high over the crossbar from Philipp Degen’s cross, before Sigurdsson was a long way off target with his 25-yard right-foot effort.
Then, almost out of the blue, came our opening goal on 23 minutes and there was some good fortune in its construction. Jan Vertonghen’s throughball straight down the middle was meant for Dempsey, defender Schar slid in to intercept but the ball slipped under his leg and in to the USA striker, who made light work of rounding Yann Sommer and rolling it into the empty net.
That was the first goal Basel had conceded at their home ground since beating Servette 3-2 in a Swiss league match on October 7 last year.
But just four minutes later the home side were level. Mousa Dembele’s pass was intercepted inside our half, the loose ball fell to Marco Streller who laid it into the path of Salah coming in off the right and he poked his shot inside Friedel’s near post for the equaliser.
The game was well and truly alight by this stage and Salah was in again on 29 minutes, but this time Kyle Walker was alert to the danger, coming across to block his path and Friedel gathered the loose ball.
We responded well to the setback though and had the better of the chances as the half wore on. Dempsey’s header from Sigurdsson’s corner was saved comfortably by Sommer before the Swiss keeper made a magnificent stop to deny Dembele’s curling effort from Dempsey’s lay-off and Sigurdsson just failed to reach the rebound. From the next phase of play Adebayor found himself in space from Holtby’s reverse pass but Sommer easily gathered his shot.
Basel were certainly a threat going forward without seriously testing Friedel, while Sommer was being frequently called into action, saving again from Kyle Naughton in the final minute of the half as it ended 1-1 at the interval.
That scoreline was altered just four minutes into the second half though as Basel took the lead for the first time on the night. Valentin Stocker’s corner was flicked on by Schar, Friedel could only parry and Dragovic was on hand to fire the loose ball home.
And after Adebayor had drilled a shot into the side-netting from a tight angle, Dragovic went close again for Basel, flicking a header from Fabian Frei’s free-kick just past the post.
In truth, the goal didn’t change our requirements in the match as we still needed a second goal to cancel out Basel’s second at the Lane and we enjoyed a good spell of possession, unfortunately without really creating a clear cut chance.
Mohammed Elneny tested Friedel from 30 yards but the keeper saved the effort well with Dawson clearing up the rebound, but we were the team more on the front foot and went close to the crucial second goal on 73 minutes.
Parker’s shot was deflected for a corner and from Sigurdsson’s set-piece, Michael Dawson rose highest to power his header goalwards but Sommer saved well and gathered at the second attempt.
We changed to a more attacking formation in the closing minutes, with Huddlestone and Benoit Assou-Ekotto coming on for Scott Parker and Kyle Naughton, with Huddlestone joining Dawson and Vertonghen in a back three.
And as we dominated possession, the reward came. With eight minutes remaining, Huddlestone floated a free-kick into the Basel area, Dempsey controlled on his chest and poked a shot goalwards which Sommer looked to have saved, but the ball went through his arms and nestled in the back of the net.
Friedel then made a smart diving save to keep out Streller’s header from Markus Steinhofer’s cross and we so nearly grabbed a dramatic winner when Walker played a lovely one-two with Tom Carroll, his cross from the byline deflected off Park Joo Ho and just flicked across the face of the goal with no-one on hand to add the final touch.
As the game entered its final minute of normal time, we were reduced to 10 men when Vertonghen upended Streller as the Swiss striker was through on goal. And with no further change to the scoreline, the game went into extra time as we were all square on the night and 4-4 on aggregate.
The loss of Vertonghen forced another switch in formation as went 4-4-1, with Adebayor playing up top on his own. And naturally Basel enjoyed the lion’s share of possession with the extra man, going close to adding a third when Elneny’s fierce 30-yard drive flicked off the outside of Friedel’s post on 98 minutes. Despite dominating possession, Basel were being restricted to long range shots only though and substitute Marcelo Diaz was next to have a go, firing just wide from the right-hand edge of the area.
The game turned into a real cat and mouse affair in the second period of extra time, Basel having the possession while we sat with two banks of four and asked the question as to whether they could break us down. They almost did on 112 minutes but Dawson produced an outstanding block to deny Alexander Frei and when Steinhofer sent over an inviting cross, Streller just couldn’t convert and Friedel pounced on the loose ball.
And so to penalties...our first in European competition since visiting PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Cup in 2008.
Schar was first up for Basel and scored, Huddlestone stepped up for our first but Sommer saved, diving to his right. Streller converted for 2-0, Sigurdsson got us on the board with a fine strike, and then Fabian Frei slotted his kick for 3-1.
Adebayor missed the target with our third, leaving Diaz the task of firing home the winner, which he duly did.
Heartbreak after such a battling, valiant effort.
FC Basel: Sommer; Degen P, Schar, Dragovic, Park Joo Ho; Elneny, Frei F, Serey Die (Diaz 58); Salah (Frei A 111), Streller, Stocker (Steinhofer 70). Substitutes (not used): Vailati, Degen D, Cabral, Sauro.
Spurs: Friedel; Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Naughton (Assou-Ekotto 79); Parker (Huddlestone 78); Dempsey, Holtby, Dembele (Carroll 58), Sigurdsson; Adebayor. Substitutes (not used): Lloris, Caulker, Livermore, Coulthirst.
Goals: Basel – Salah (27), Dragovic (49). Spurs – Dempsey (23, 82)
Yellow Cards: Basel – Serey Die, Streller, Elneny; Spurs – Naughton, Dembele, Dempsey, Dawson, Walker
Red Card: Spurs – Vertonghen.
Referee: Olegario Benquerenca (Portugal)