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Feb 14, 2011

Defoe eyes Champions League glory

"I just get up in the morning and say: yeah man, I'm ready to score goals." That's the approach to football Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe has taken throughout his life.

It is a maxim that served him well in the parks of London as a child and, although the stakes have been raised significantly, the 28-year-old maintains the same approach now that he is challenging for some of the biggest honours in the game.

On Tuesday night, Defoe, who emerged through the ranks of the same Senrab FC youth team that spawned the likes of Ledley King and John Terry, will get a chance to test himself against seven-time European Champions AC Milan at the San Siro.

Defoe has already scored three times in the Champions League, but will need to end a six-game goal drought if he is to help send Tottenham into the next round and beyond. He last scored, twice, against Charlton Athletic, the club that discovered his talent as a teenager, to send Tottenham into the fourth round of the FA Cup and while he maintains the competition the club last won in 1991 is still important, Defoe's ambitions are loftier.

When manager Harry Redknapp took control of Tottenham in 2008 they were directionless and embroiled in a relegation battle. The club have now become one of most exciting in England, playing a brand of attacking football that has them challenging the established powers of the Premier League and taking on the best Europe has to offer in the Champions League.

Defoe has been a large part of that resurgence. When Redknapp left Portsmouth for Tottenham, he made Defoe one of his first signings, spending £15.75 million to bring the striker back to White Hart Lane, where he had scored 43 goals in 139 games between 2004 and 2008.

In his first full season back at the club, Defoe - who signed his first professional contract with Redknapp's West Ham back in 1999 - helped Spurs finish fourth in the Premier League, the same position they currently occupy, and qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history. This season, the club are reaping the rewards of those efforts.

In the opening phase of European football's flagship competition, Tottenham scored a whopping 18 goals - beating FC Twente, Werder Bremen and Inter Milan along the way - as they breezed through Group A and now face a last-16 clash against Champions League veterans AC Milan.

Many expect the Serie A leaders to be the hurdle over which Spurs fall, but Defoe is more optimistic. Not only does he expect Tottenham to beat the former European champions, but the striker can even envision his side winning the whole tournament.

"Yeah it's realistic [to win the Champions League]," Defoe insists. "Even before it started I said to people 'we'll do well'. I said 'I guarantee we'll do well in the Champions League' because of the way we play and the players that we have got.

"The squad is just full of internationals that have played at the highest level. I said we would compete from day one and we've done that. Now we have got AC Milan, a team I believe we can beat. If we play at the right intensity and the right tempo it's a game that we can win. We have got a winning mentality now which is so important."

In their previous eight Champions League matches, including the qualifying round, Tottenham only scored less than three goals on one occasion, a 2-2 draw at Werder Bremen, but they have kept only two clean sheets, conceding 14 goals.

It has been suggested that Tottenham might adopt a more defensive approach to deal with Massimiliano Allegri's attacking trio of Robinho, Alexandre Pato and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, especially with the first leg away from home at the San Siro, but it is a notion quickly dismissed by Defoe.

"The way we play, we are just an attacking team. I don't think we have to change for anyone," he says. "The way we have played has got us this far, we don't need to change."

"You have got to be disciplined and the manager will look at it and work on it. But if you look at Barcelona and the way they play, when they lose possession they get the ball back so quick and as soon as they get it back they are on the attack again. You still can play the way we play, but maybe you have to be more disciplined. But that comes with experience."

While experience might be one thing lacking from Tottenham's Champions League campaign, ambition certainly isn't.

Looking further into the competition, Defoe has no interest in plotting an easy route to a potential final. The England international, who scored the winning goal against Slovenia to send the Three Lions into the second round of World Cup 2010, wants to test himself against the cream of the crop.

"We will play anyone," he maintains. "But you want to play in the best stadiums against the best players - your Real Madrid's and Barcelona's - you want to play those teams."

Defoe's continued reference to Barcelona highlights his obvious admiration for Pep Guardiola's much-vaunted attacking side and, in an ideal world, Defoe would love to face the Catalans in the final at Wembley.

"I'd approach it like any other game, like when I was young really, when I was a little kid and just playing in the park with my friends. That's how I still look at it now," he says. "When I get up in the morning I look forward to the games and I'm just buzzing. At the end of the day if you are nervous or scared before games you are not going to perform. I just go out there and think 'if I get a chance I'm going to score' and that's it."

It's the same attitude that Redknapp has instilled with such great success at Tottenham and it is why Defoe may yet get the chance to realise his dream.

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