Spurs, Ajax move to Champions League group stage

Paris: Tottenham, inspired by a Peter Crouch hat-trick, and former European champions Ajax move into the Champions League group stage draw Thursday after decisive wins in play-off action.

Joining this pair in the lucrative group phase were French side Auxerre, Slovakian outfit Zilina, and FC Copenhagen.

Wednesday`s play-off winners go into Thursday`s group stage draw along with Tuesday`s triumphant quintet - Sporting Braga, Werder Bremen, Partizan Belgrade, Hapoel Tel-Aviv and Basel.

These 10 play-off qualifiers go into the pot in Monaco with the 22 European heavyweights who gained automatic admission to the group phase.

Spurs are making their Champions League debut and their first foray into Europe`s top flight competition for half a century.

This prized place in the group stages could generate as much as 20 million pounds (24 million euros) in extra revenue yet Harry Redknapp`s men almost missed out on the financial bonanza, going 3-0 down to Young Boys in an unforgettable first half performance on the Swiss outfit`s plastic pitch in Berne last week.

Two second half goals gave them hope and Wednesday`s 4-0 rout saw the north Londoners safely through 6-3 on aggregate to ensure last season`s performance in pipping big-spending Manchester City to fourth in the Premier League hadn`t been in vain.

Crouch settled Spurs` nerves` in the rain at White Hart Lane with a fifth minute opener, with his fellow England international Jermain Defoe adding a second after the half hour with a little help from his left hand.

Tottenham, the first English side to taste European glory with a 1963 Cup Winners Cup triumph, emerged for the second half with Carlo Cudicini replacing injured Heurelho Gomes in goal.

The Italian didn`t have a great deal to do however with Crouch completing his first European hat-trick, his third goal coming from the penalty spot, to set the home fans dreaming of more memorable Champions League nights to come over the winter.

"We came out and played exceptionally well tonight," said Crouch.

"To have the chance to play Inter Milan or Real Madrid at White Hart Lane...that`s why we worked so hard last year, we want massive games."

Defoe added: "All the hard work last season has paid off, it was a fantastic performance."

Redknapp remarked: "It`s been an awful long time since Tottenham played in a top European competiion, this was the dream for me and now we`ve achieved that."

FC Copenhagen scraped into the group phase, overcoming Norwegian neighbours Rosenborg 1-0 leaving the tie balanced at 2-2 with the Danish capital side going through on away goals.

In Wednesday`s other `derby` encounter Zilina beat Czech rivals Sparta Prague 1-0 for a resounding 3-0 aggregate win.

The game was marred when 16 people were injured in violent clashes between fans and police before the kick-off.

Auxerre, who finished a surprising third in the French first division last season, earned their place in Thursday`s draw with a 2-0 second leg win over 2008 UEFA Cup winners` Zenit St Petersburg from Russia for a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Dutch giants Ajax booked their ticket after goals from Uruguayan captain Luis Suarez and Mounir El Hamdaoui saw them through 3-2 on aggregate against Dinamo Kiev.

Bureau Report

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