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EUROPA LEAGUE: Focused on the semi-finals

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EUROPA LEAGUE: But Chelsea and Spurs will be tested by Steaua Bucharest and Inter Milan respectively

PARIS: THEY could both be forgiven for dreaming of  more lucrative adventures in the Champions League come next season, but today Chelsea and Tottenham will have their eyes focused on a place in the Europa League semi-finals.

   Both must put thoughts of the Champions League aside at least for 90  minutes as they prepare to meet Steaua Bucharest and Inter Milan respectively.

   Spurs, twice winners of Europa League predecessor tournament the UEFA Cup,  would have been competing in the Champions League this season, had Chelsea's  triumph in the final over Bayern Munich not torpedoed those ambitions.

   However, the Blues themselves suffered the heartache of being dumped into the Europa melting pot when they became the first Champions League winners to exit the group stage.

   Much water has flowed under Chelsea's Stamford Bridge since they saw off  Bayern, with Champions League-winning coach Roberto Di Matteo unceremoniously sacked and Rafa Benitez installed as an interim measure -- to the dismay of many  of the club's supporters.

   Yet Benitez, while recognising that Champions League qualification is the  overriding goal, would happily lift a trophy which would enable Chelsea to  complete the set of European Cup, the now defunct Cup Winners' Cup and also  UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League.

   To date, only Bayern, Ajax and Juventus have managed to win all three.

   Benitez has to juggle with the additional burden of a top four league  finish with next weekend's FA Cup quarter-final at Manchester United also  looming.

   "We have to go to Bucharest before we can concentrate on (the United)  game," he insisted.

   Benitez has a selection dilemma regarding skipper John Terry, who is  returning from a knee injury, while Gary Cahill is getting over a virus,  leaving Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz as central defensive partners.

   The former Liverpool boss, who won the Champions League at Anfield and the  UEFA Cup with Valencia, said of Terry: "He's training. Match fitness and  training sessions are two different things and he's improving."

   Spurs counterpart Andre Villas-Boas can be satisfied that his side are on a  roll after beating Arsenal to move third.

   The tie will have a job to reach the thrill levels of the Champions League  group matches against Inter two seasons ago, when Gareth Bale hit a hat-trick in  the San Siro only to finish on the losing side before Spurs won the return.

   Teammate Michael Dawson says with Bale around anything is possible.

   "He's one of the best players in the world at the moment, and probably the  best in the world for me right now."

   Villas-Boas has already won the tournament with Porto, two years ago before  his ill-fated spell at Stamford Bridge.

   Spurs have twice lifted the UEFA Cup, which Inter have themselves won on  three occasions, and the hosts will beware of a side which can boast five wins  in six matches on their European travels this term.

   Newcastle complete the English contingent but, in the absence of injured  skipper Fabricio Coloccini, face a trip into the unknown as they take on Guus  Hiddink's Anji Makhachkala of Russia in Moscow.

   Makhachkala have won all their "home" games to date, including a group  success over Liverpool. The Caucasus-based side play their home matches in  Moscow as their home republic of Dagestan is deemed too dangerous.

   Newcastle coach Alan Pardew said: "It would be massive if we could beat this  team. They are a really strong side."

   Other ties see former European champions Benfica host Bordeaux and  Stuttgart take on Lazio, who have to play two home European matches behind  closed doors for their fans' racist behaviour. AFP

Tottenham midfielder Gareth Bale

Steaua Bucharest’s Iasmin Latovlevici trains ahead of the Europa League first leg, last 16 tie against Chelsea today.


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