André Villas-Boas described his Tottenham Hotspur players as "heroes" who had helped to "set an example for English football" in the Europa League, as he digested the bitter pill of a penalty shootout defeat by Basel in the quarter-final.
Chelsea will be the Premier League's sole representative in Friday's semi-final draw after they defeated Rubin Kazan on aggregate, with Newcastle United going out to Benfica. But the drama came in Switzerland, where Tottenham scored a late equaliser through Clint Dempsey to force extra-time. They lost Jan Vertonghen to a 90th-minute red card and kept Basel at bay in the additional 30 minutes but they were broken by the penalties, when the substitute Tom Huddlestone and Emmanuel Adebayor missed.
"I think we set a great standard and a great example this season for English football for the way that we approached this competition," Villas-Boas said, with a nod towards his consistently strong selections and regularly stated determination to win the tournament. "I would like to compliment the players because changing the mentality towards the competition is difficult. They played like heroes.
"It has never been an excuse for the way we've played in the Premier League but I think it has changed the way some other English clubs have approached and played the competition. I'm proud of the players. We're extremely disappointed but it's a great honour to have managed the players in this competition the way we did. We had such great ambitions and we tried to go for it but when we lost Jan, it didn't go our way."
Villas-Boas said that Tottenham had practised penalties but it was impossible to legislate for the highly charged atmosphere or the nerves. Gylfi Sigurdsson was Tottenham's only success from the spot while each of Basel's four takers scored.
"Penalties are always very difficult," Villas-Boas said. "We had assigned the strongest penalty-takers and we practised the penalties. You can never recreate the same stress and emotion in training. In the end, we could have done better in the home leg. We played a better game this time round but in penalties, anything can happen. It wasn't our day and it's part of the game."
Tottenham's season has come down to six Premier League matches and a fight to finish above Chelsea or Arsenal to qualify for next season's Champions League. Chelsea's remorseless schedule continues unabated and there was the sense in Basel that Tottenham might at least have some beneficial breathing space now that their European adventure is over.
"The fact we are not in it will allow us longer weeks to play the Premier League games," Villas-Boas said. "If it's going to serve as something good, it will definitely allow more time for the players to rest. But we wanted to be in the semi-finals. We have six games remaining and we need to be fully ready to respond.
"It's different now. But motivation and desire is something we have never lacked so we go back into the Premier League with the objective of trying to qualify for the Champions League. The players are very driven to achieve success and, hopefully, it will be an easy task. They can reflect and I'm sure we will prepare strongly for our next game against Manchester City."
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