Toby Alderweireld says his experience with Atletico Madrid has convinced him any team can win the Champions League.
Alderweireld and Atletico were beaten by rivals Real Madrid in the final at Wembley two years ago, when they led until the 93rd minute before Sergio Ramos headed home a heartbreaking equaliser.
Real went on to win 4-1 in extra-time but Alderweireld still has fond memories of the tournament, as Atletico upset the odds to beat Chelsea, Barcelona and AC Milan en route to the final.
The 27-year-old was back at Wembley two weeks ago, when Tottenham lost their opening Group E game against Monaco, but they have the chance to re-establish themselves in the standings when they go up against CSKA Moscow on Tuesday.
Spurs are still expected to progress to the knock-out stage but anything beyond that would be a significant achievement for the club, who were thrashed 5-0 on aggregate by Real Madrid in the quarters in 2011.
Alderweireld, however, insists his experience with Atletico, while painful to recall, proves anything is possible.
“Of course, it hurts. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to win the Champions League,” Alderweireld said.
“But I’ve learned that every team can win the Champions League if you put your mind to it. If you have a good squad and the hunger is there to win something, you can do it.
“At Atletico, we had the big teams like Barca, Real, Bayern (Munich) – they were always the favourites.
“But at Atletico, if you are a really good group and, of course, we had quality too, you can win it. That’s the thing that has stayed with me.”
Alderweireld has been an inspired signing for Tottenham, who snatched the Belgian from the grasp of Southampton last year and have been reaping the rewards ever since.
His assertiveness, excellent reading of the game and composure on the ball have been integral to Spurs’ resilient defence, which finished with the joint-best record in the Premier League last season and will be crucial if they want to make an impact in Europe.
Asked about his development as a player, Alderweireld points to the focus on technique at Ajax and ruthlessness under Diego Simeone at Atletico.
“I have to go a bit further back, first to Ajax, where I got an education in how to play the ball, how to be confident on the ball, your technique,” Alderweireld said.
“And then of course you go to a big league like Spain and you have to learn to defend. Of course, I could defend before but the details, the ruthlessness, be clinical in front of your own goal, win every duel, every battle and be clever, you know. And the small things.
“That’s something I learned so much and defensively, I grew there so much.
“So I have the two best things. I learned to play football at Ajax, to be confident on the ball, and then I really learned to defend at Atletico. That has made me the defender I am today.”
Alderweireld has been to Moscow before, in 2011 when Ajax lost 3-0 to Spartak Moscow, with Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen also in the team that day.
The defender knows Tottenham cannot afford a similar set-back in the Russian capital on Tuesday.
“Of course. Look, we want to do everything to win, to get three points,” Alderweireld said.
“We know that there is a little bit more pressure because we lost the first home game but we have to have confidence in our own game and try to give everything on the pitch.”