Good evening. Paul will be here soon enough but while you wait, here's André Villas-Boas on why he is bemused by the Europa League's unpopularity. No, really. Enjoy.
André Villas-Boas has admitted he is baffled by the Europa League's constant unpopularity in England.
The Tottenham Hotspur manager's career took off in 2010-11 when he won the competition with Porto, the climax of a season in which he claimed four trophies, leading to him replacing Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea.
"The profile of the competition is raised in other countries, but not England. I don't understand it," Villas-Boas said in Greece ahead of his team's Group J game against Panathinaikos on Thursday. "I'm also not in a position to criticise others managers' approach to the competition.
Hats off to Andre Villas-Boas for coming up the radical of idea of actually trying to win this tournament. Will such an approach ever catch on among England's top sides? Here be the line-ups:
Panathinaikos: Kamezis; Seitaridis, Pinto, Triantafyllopoulous, Vyntra; Marinos, Vitolo, Christodoupoulos, Zeca, Owusu-Abeyie; Toché,
Subs: Kotsolis, Chouchomis, Sissoko, Mavrias, Lagos, Formaroli, Barabrouses
Spurs: Lloris; Walker, Caulker, Dawson, Vertonghen; Lennon, Huddlestone, Dembélé, Bale; Dempsey; Defoe
Subs: Cudicini, Gallas, Sigurdsson, Falqué, Sandro, Townsend, Mason
Here's what you need to know about Pana: they're a shambles. Financially they're on their knees and been forced to sell several of their best players during the summer; and that has been reflected in their form - they were beaten 3-0 by Maribor in their first match in this tournament and they are currently 12th in the 16-team Greek top flight, having won one of five matches so far (and lost to second-from-bottom Panthrakikos Komotin). Nevertheless, they still have amazing support, as proven by the scenes that greet the players upon their arrival on the pitch. Money may be desperately tight in Greece right now but there's a large and exuberant crowd in the stadium. Let's hope their fun spirit is rewarded with a fine game.
1 min: AS Spurs get the game going, the camera pans around the stadium to reveal that it is, in fact, very far from full. Still, those who have forked out for tickets are creating a pleasant din. "AVB trying to win it? He's playing his 4th choice goalkeeper!" quips Matt Dony.
3 min: A strong start by Spurs, as Bale makes a trademark gallop down the left and then fires in a tremendous cross that Pinto sticks behind for a corner. Pana fail to deal with that corner and as the ball bounces around the box, Defoe lashes a shot that bounces off Pinto's arm - Tottenham howl for a penalty, the ref ignores them
5 min: Pana are palpably a rabble and Spurs are leading them on a merry dance. It is only a question of time before the visitors take the lead.
7 min: Vertonghen is already looking enterprising down the left; which raises the question: how many better left flanks are there in Europe than Vertonghen and Bale? "Where is Adebayor?" demands Dave Heffernan. "They must be paying him large wages to not even make the bench?" He has a hamstring injury but might be back by this weekend.
10 min: Huddlestone should enjoy this: he is being given plenty of time in central midfield to spray the ball about, though he has yet to properly avail of that room.
12 min: That was better from Huddlestone. He spotted Walker's burst down the right and dinked a perfect ball through for the full-back, who collected it nicely but then miscued his shot from the edge of the area.
14 min: "Watching the game and trying very hard to feel a sense of excitement. Bring back the glory days of Uefa and games over two legs!" booms Houro Loris. "Happy to see Lloris play though, he has had a few terrific years and I can't understand why on earth he agreed to come Tottenham without first checking he would get Premiere League action. Amateurism and a poor agent would be the first reasons coming to mind. And AVB trauma at Chelsea when he tried to 'prepare for the future'." This Lloris storm is so much hooey: he will get plenty of Premier League action - Brad Friedel is 41, for crying out loud. Plus, Lloris could do with firming up his cross-collection qualities before being cast into the a league featuring Stoke, West Ham, etc. And on that note, Lloris surges off his line to collect a decent cross from Seitaridis!
16 min: Dembélé waltzes past three and then serves Dempsey, who plays it back to Huddlestone, who is now trying a little too hard to dissect the defence with one ball, and sends his latest over-ambitious effort straight out of play. "I need some guidance," confesses Timothy Smith. "I have adopted Arsenal as my EPL team. I know we are supposed to hate Spurs, but they just hired my favorite player: Clint Dempsey. Is it OK if I root for Spurs when they are not playing Arsenal?" Tim, Tim, Tim ... there are no rules: you can root for whoever the hell you want. Except John Terry.
18 min: That's as trong run by Owusu-Abeyie (remember him?), even if Bale put in a worryingly feeble challenge. Fortunately for Spurs, Vertonghen came across to cut out the danger.
20 min: Dempsey curls a 25-yard freekick just wide.
23 min: Tottenham are still pretty much in control of this, right up to the opposing box, where their shortage of ideas has meant Pana have rarely been exposed. "You may have missed it, but the Guardian had a pretty good MBM on the Obama/Romney debate last night," gushes Timothy Smith. "It is too bad about Big Bird." Yes, I did miss that, but I am slightly puzzled by the love for Big Bird - he was always such a drip (although far more likeable than that Elmo fraud): the real heroes of Sesame Street were Ernie, Oscar and The Count. RIP.
25 min: Pana are showing some gumption. They bound forward gamely when they get the chance ... but their latest counter-attack comes to an end when Dembélé robs the ball and plays a shrewd pass through to Lennon, whose shot from 20 yards is pitiful. "Surely no one in England 'roots' for anybody!" storms Jon Tumbridge, who just can't let them rules go. Besides, perhaps Timothy Smith is not from England but rather from, you know, somewhere on the other 98% of the earth, which can't all be bad.
28 min: Christodouplous tonks a 27-yard freekick into the wall. Moments later Walker thoughtlessly concedes a freekick. A chance for Lloris to show off those exemplary cross-collection skills again? Yes, the man's a natural.
30 min: Lloris hurtles off his line to intercept a through-ball from Owusu-Abeyie before the striker could get there. It might not be a bad thing for Tottenham if the Greeks score around about now: the apparent bluntness of their hosts seems to have lulled Spurs into complacency - a rel lack of urgency has contaiminated their play.
33 min: Freekick to Spurs on the left. "Don't forget Guy Smiley!" pleads Diarmuid Daly in reference to the comments on 23 min. "He could teach this generation's smarmy gameshow host morons a thing or two." Too right: check this out.
GOAL! Pana 0-1 Spurs (Dawson 34') Huddlestone floats the freekick towards the near post, where Dawson rises well and sends an elegant header into the far corner! AVB has made him captain for tonight and there he led by example.
36 min: Bale is allowed to run from mid-way to the edge of the box before having a pop. Karnezis pushes it behind for a corner.
39 min: Spurs are threatening a second goal now. Huddlestone and Bale have both forced decent saves from the keeper in the last couple of minutes. "Eh, you forgot Grover on that list of Sesame Street heroes," protests Rory Gleeson. "He was a true gent." Yes, he was. And he knew that "anything is possible when you smell like a monster and know the meaning of the word 'on'."
40 min: Bale booked for a clumsy tackle on Seitaridis, who has been Pana's best performer so far, raiding down the right to reasonable effect.
43 min: Lloris fumbles a cross! Seitaridis clipped one in from the right, and the keeper jumped for it under mild pressure from Toché ... and he dropped it! But luckily for Lloris, no one was on hand to take advantage and he was able to pounce on it at the second attempt.
Half-time: That was quite easy for Spurs, who have established a lead that looks unassailable without over-exerting themselves. Help themselves to another goal and AVB will have a perfect chance to rest a couple of players. I'd also like to see him give a run-out to Falqué, of whom I've seen little.
Half-time chitchat: "I'm an American soccer fan," admits Daniel Stauss. which means that I'm supposed to think that everything Clint Dempsey does is better than anyone's ever done it before, unless of course Landon Donovan did it first, but there was something so petulant about his move from Fulham that I'm a little disgusted with the guy. Mostly because the EPL does petulant transfer snits better than anyone, and Deuce let the whole country down by not fleeing across an ocean and getting in a little golf."
46 min: Pana change: Marinos off, Sissoko on.
48 min: Huddlestone sizes up a freekick from almost the same position from the one that led to the first goal (except at the other end, obviously). He producs another good delivery but a Tottenham player had ventured offside so Pana get a chance to relieve the pressure, for now.
49 min: Beautiful ball from Vertonghen to Defoe, who, alas, had strayed offside. If he's waited a nanosecond he would have been clean through on goal.
52 min: Owusu-Abeyie canters down the left, Walker having been caught out of position. The Ghanaian looks up in search of a colleague to aim for in the middle but, without an obvious target, then decides to just whack the ball across the face of goal. Dawson stretches out a leg (one of his own, happily) to divert it behind for a corner.
55 min: Dempsey slides a pass through for Defoe, whose first touch is good, as is his second, but then he blazes his shot over from 17 yards.
56 min: "Solid defending by Walker to pinch the ball off Sissoko just as the Ivorian seemed set to shoot from 15 yards. "While the game looks OK on TV, the many sections of empty seats in the Athens Olympic stadium provide a sobering sneak preview of what West Ham's matchdays will look like once they move to Stratford," reckons Dan Hamilton. "Apart from derbies with Millwall, of course."
58 min: Dempsey has a ping from 25 yards. Easy save for the keeper.
60 min: What the heck are Atletico Bilbao up to? They've left Llorente out again and are currently 3-0 down to Sparta Prague! Elsewhere , Videoton are beating Sporting Lisbon by the same score, while Helsingborgs 0 whom Celtic beat to get to the Champions League group stages - are leading 2-0 against Sctheve McClaren's Dutch table-toppers Twente.
63 min: I won't lie to you, at least not right now: this match is trying the patience. Tottenham could be out of sight if they were more bothered. But they're not, which, I suppose, means there is still a little intrigue in the game, if not much action.
64 min: Bale tries to liven things up with a shot from 25 yards. It wobbles wide.
66 min: Spurs substitution: AVB is trying to lift his team with a change: off trots Dempsey, on bounds Sigurdsson.
69 min: Toché blems a 30-yard freekick over the bar. Spurs have become so indolent that they deserve to concede but this mob don't look capable of punishing them.
72 min: That was Jermaine Defoe at his best! Well, right up until his shot, which was deflected behind for a corner. But he created the space for himself beautifully and then feinted and darted his to the edge of the box before his drive was turned behind. The corner came to nought.
75 min: Vyntra booked for pulling over Lennon as the little winger skipped past him. Freekick to the right of the Pana's box ...
76 min: Spurs substitution: before the free-kick can be taken, AVB withdraws Lennon and introduces Townsend.
77 min: Bale rolls the freekick to Siguardsson, who lazily lumps it into the out-rushing defender.
GOAL! Pana 1-1 Spurs (Toché 77') Spurs are finally punished for their slackness! Seitaridis, who has been Pana's best player all night, splits the defence with a superb pass from the right and Toché, having dashed between Dawson and Caulker, pokes it past Lloris!
79 min: Buoyed by their against-the-odds goal, Pana are now pushing for a second. And they've won a freekicx on the edge of the box thanks to a foul by Walker.
80 min: Spurs substitution: Huddlestone off, Sandro on.
82 min: Tottenham's slackness persists: they could actually lose this, which would be quite a feat. Meanwhile, John Willough has a theory as to why Atletico Bilbao are tanking at the moment. "Marcelo Bielsa is sulking after his row with Llorente at training recently, and so left him out of the team. The rest of the team is sulking because now they have to get some goals themselves instead of just giving Llorente the ball and letting him get on with it. Llorente is now sulking in the stands." Having said that, they've pulled it back to 3-1 against Sparta Prague.
85 min: Pana change: Christodoulpoulous off, thankfully, and Mavrias on.
87 min: Spurs scrounge a corner. Bale swings it in ... Caulker nuts it over from close range, under pressure from the goalkeeper, who is given a freekick for absolutely nothing. The protection given too keepers is ridiculous.
89 min: Pana fans appear to be belting out Culture Club's Chamleon, perhaps because their goal was karmic punishment for Spurs' sluggishness.
90+1 min: Spurs are finishing on the back foot here and find themselves throwing their bodies in front of Greek shots to cling on to a draw ...
90+2 min: OK< not totally on the back foot: Bale scampers down the right and sends in a fine cross ... but no one was there to take advantage.
90+3 min: It's all over. That was shoddy by Spurs, who never got into full match mode and eased off even further after taking the lead. They ended up clinging on for a point against a team they could have beaten by several goals. The upshot is that they still haven't put in many convincing 90-minute displays under AVB. "Muppets," sums up SImon McMahon, in keeping with tonight's riff.