LONDON - Rafael van der Vaart has not had
much luck with the Champions League so he is revelling in his
somewhat unexpected assault on the knockout stages with
The gifted attacking midfielder, fresh from helping the
Netherlands to the World Cup final, joined Spurs in August on a
deadline-day transfer from Real Madrid which, at 8 million
pounds, is starting to look like the deal of
The London club were about to take part in the Champions
League for the first time so his expectation level was somewhat
lower than when he joined Real Madrid from Hamburg SV two years
However, thanks in part to his sustained excellence, Spurs
face AC Milan in the second leg of their last-16 tie on
Wednesday with the advantage of an away goal and a place in the
last eight beckoning.
"I'm really excited, I'm happy I'm fit," Van der Vaart told
reporters on Tuesday having recovered from a calf injury that
had put his involvement in doubt.
"The Champions League has been hard for me. In 2003 with
Ajax (Amsterdam) we reached the quarter-finals but then lost to
Milan in the last minute. That was a real shame as we had some
good young players - me, Zlatan Ibrahimovic (who he will face
on Wednesday), Wesley Sneijder, Mido, me - that was a great
Van der Vaart missed out after moving to Hamburg but
renewed his association with Europe's elite competition after
his move to Spain.
"When I went to Madrid I thought 'now I'll get to the final'
but in the two years I was there we lost to Olympique Lyon and
Liverpool so I was really disappointed.
"By the time I got to Madrid the pressure was so high having
not reached the quarter-finals for so many years.
"With Spurs it's different. Everyone is pleased that we've
played well but to reach the quarter-final the pressure is
different and it isn't necessarily expected."
Van der Vaart, who has scored 12 goals and created countless
others to become an instant crowd favourite, said he had settled
quickly into his new life, on and off the pitch.
"It's gone so well I feel really at home here, from the
first day it felt like a family," said the 28-year-old. "It's
nice in England, everyone is so open and I enjoy playing with my
"Our manager wants nice football, a lot of goals, and to
give the fans a special night and that's another reason why I'm
"It's the same playing for the Dutch national team, where we
are expected to play attacking football."
Milan's Brazilian forward Robinho said this week that Spurs
concentrated on delivering crosses to tall striker Peter Crouch
and Van der Vaart said they would happily go down that route if
it was the best way to find a way through.
"We can play really good football but when Peter Crouch is
playing it's normal to try to reach him," he said.
"I'm always there around him and I've scored six or seven
from his knock downs and that's really difficult to defend
"We want to attack and we will attack tomorrow. We want to
reach the final and if that comes from long balls, then we'll
play long balls."
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