From Mousa Dembélé's last-gasp winning goal in Lyon, to the fraught, extra-time passage against Internazionale in the last 16, André Villas-Boas's team have played fast and loose with their future.
They remain alive in this quarter-final after another wild night, which was scarred from their perspective by the sight of Gareth Bale being taken away on a stretcher in injury time after rolling his right ankle in grisly fashion. The fear was that the loss of their talisman stood to have severe repercussions in the chase for a top-four Premier League finish.
But as the inquest began, the sense was that they were fortunate not to be considering the end of their European adventure this season.
Basel wore Barcelona colours and they played like them at times, dazzling in the freezing temperatures and with their attacking players emerging with distinction. Marco Streller led the line with power and panache while on the flanks Mohamed Salah and Valentin Stocker advertised their class.
Tottenham's morale took a battering but so did their limbs. They finished with nine men on the pitch, after WilliamGallas limped off with a calf tear in the89th minute, with Villas-Boas having used all of his substitutes. There was frustration in the stands that Gallas had not gritted his teeth and remained on the field, even as a passenger on the wing.
Villas-Boas had lost Aaron Lennon in the first half to a knee problem but Bale's departure after a tangle with the Basel substitute, David Degen, was the grim final act and it compounded Tottenham's collective frustration. Bale's face was contorted in pain and after treatment on the field he was helped on to the stretcher and wheeled down the tunnel.
Tottenham were forced to recover from two goals down, which they did with commendable spirit, but they could conceivably have trailed by four, from which it would have been rather more difficult to recover. Brad Friedel had saved from Streller at close quarters early on and at 2-0 Stocker cut through Tottenham's porous back line and, with only the goalkeeper to beat, he lifted narrowly wide of the far post.
Emmanuel Adebayor initiated Tottenham's fight back and the substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson's deflected shot drew Tottenham level but thereafter Basel continued to be the more threatening.
Villas-Boas did not dispute that his team had been second best. Basel spurned a further clutch of presentable chances, with Salah blowing a gilt-edged, one-on-one with Friedel, and it was debatable who was the happier to hear the full-time whistle.
Villas-Boas dug deep for the positives. He mentioned how Tottenham had tended to score away from home and, as he marvelled at how well Basel had played, describing them as the most impressive visitors to White Hart Lane this season, there was the implicit hope that they could not raise themselves to such heights in next Thursday's return.
One thing was clear: Tottenham had to improve on this display and seize on the lifeline that they fashioned and clung to.
There had been the feeling beforehand, driven by English arrogance, that Tottenham should be beating Basel but it overlooked the manner in which the Swiss champions had brought Manchester United to their knees at last season's Champions League group stage, not to mention their European pedigree, motivation and winning mentality. They arrived in London having not tasted a meaningful defeat since November, with the second-leg loss to Zenit Saint Petersburg in the previous round of this competition not hurting them.
They called the tune at the outset and their goals were hardly bolts from the blue, rather appropriate punishment for shoddy Tottenham defending. Fabian Schär should not have been allowed to pick his way through on the half-hour to find Salah and, when he crossed, Streller turned beautifully to work a shot against the post. Stocker followed up to swell the unguarded net.
Worse for Tottenham came when Jan Vertonghen's attempted clearing header from a corner located only Fabian Frei, whose firm header beat Friedel. And Basel could curse when Stocker raced through only to dink wide.
Tottenham flickered through Bale and Kyle Naughton in the first half but they mustered a response after Bale's shot was deflected and Adebayor had missed his first bite. Scott Parker chased to return a cross that deflected again and Adebayor profited from close range.
Remarkably, Tottenham almost equalised just before the interval, yet the miss was even more remarkable. Sigurdsson, who had replaced Lennon, released Lewis Holtby and, following a goalmouth scramble, the ball fell to Parker. But with a prone Holtby in the way, he skewed his shot against his team-mate and watched the ball squirm wide of the gaping goal.
It was breathless stuff and it was possible to fear for Tottenham every time Basel swept forward. Salah raced away from Vertonghen to test Friedel and yet Tottenham clawed themselves level. After Naughton had forced Yann Sommer into a flying save, Sigurdsson cut inside from the left and tried his luck. H his fizzing drive deflected off Schär to go in under the crossbar.
White Hart Lane pulsed but the anxiety remained, as Tottenham laboured to contain Basel. Vertonghen played the substitute Michael Dawson into trouble and, suddenly, Salah was clean through only to shoot wastefully high. Moments later Friedel had to stretch to paw away Stocker's curled free-kick before the substitute Jacques Zoua miskicked when well placed. For Tottenham it could and should have been worse.
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