TOTTENHAM manager Andre Villas-Boas denounced Europa League rules as “extremely unfair” after seeing his side sweep to a third successive victory and claim their place in the competition’s knockout rounds.
Late goals from Jermain Defoe and Clint Dempsey earned Spurs a deserved triumph over Panathinaikos, after Zeca’s header had cancelled out Emmanuel Adebayor’s opener and set up a tense second half.
Lazio’s win at Maribor denied Tottenham first place in Group J and a favourable last-32 draw, but Villas-Boas was more exercised by the notion of teams knocked out of the Champions League, such as Chelsea, dropping into its sister tournament.
“I think it’s extremely unfair,” said the former Blues boss. “It would be much fairer if the clubs came in to the Europa League when they are knocked out of the last 16 of the Champions League.
“You can’t give a bonus to teams who have failed, and in the situation as it stands, teams fail in the Champions League and are promoted to the Europa League, which, in my opinion, is a massive bonus.”
Victory was Tottenham’s third in a row in all competitions and confirmation of a return to form, following a run of just two wins in nine.
It also came without injured inspiration Gareth Bale, although summer signing Clint Dempsey ably assumed the role of creator and picked out Adebayor at full stretch for only his second goal of the season.
Spurs looked to be coasting when the Togo forward slotted past Orestis Karnezis on 29 minutes, but shortly after half-time the visitors levelled, Zeca meeting a deep Nikos Spyropoulos cross with a precise downward header.
A win would have sent the Greeks through at Tottenham’s expense and Jose Toche squandered a chance to give them the lead before Dempsey allayed the White Hart Lane crowd in the 76th minute.
Full-back Kyle Walker whipped a free-kick from the right and the American midfielder powered a header towards goal that ricocheted off the crossbar, onto the back of unfortunate stopper Karnezis and into the net.
Seven minutes from time Defoe capped the evening and made up for some earlier profligacy with his 12th strike of the season, dinking home after Aaron Lennon’s weaving run and cleverly disguised pass.