Hearts manager Paulo Sergio defends Scottish football

Hearts players thank their fans
Sergio was heartened by Hearts' improved display at White Hart Lane

Hearts manager Paulo Sergio insists Scottish football is not in the doldrums despite his side being joined by Rangers and Celtic in crashing out of the Europa League.

Sergio's side drew 0-0 with Tottenham in London, but the damage had been done by a 5-0 thrashing at home.

However, the Portuguese insisted: "Scottish football is not in trouble.

"There are great footballers in Scotland. There are great teams in Scotland too, stronger than ours."

After his side's handsome aggregate win, Spurs manager Harry Redknapp said he was astonished at how much Scottish football had declined.

Rangers, having already failed to qualify for the Champions League after defeat by Malmo, were held 1-1 at home by Maribor to lose by a single goal to the Slovenian champions on aggregate.

Celtic's hopes of progressing were hampered by an opening-minute sending off and penalty as Swiss Cup winners Sion advanced 3-1 on the night and aggregate.

"Sometimes in football the strong ones don't win," insisted former Sporting Lisbon manager Sergio.

"I don't believe that Maribor and Sion have stronger squads than Celtic or Rangers, but that's just football.

"Last week, the national team beat Denmark. They did it very well, with class."

Sergio took a risk by making seven changes from the side that suffered the hammering in Edinburgh last week, but the move paid off, with Hearts looking the more likely of the two sides to score against an equally youthful Spurs.

Gordon Smith rattled the bar in the 12th minute for the Edinburgh side, who stayed in the game thanks partly to Jamie MacDonald's penalty save from debutant Harry Kane, while Rudi Skacel was a constant threat.

Sergio was disappointed not to win the second leg but was glad to see his team put in a much better performance than last Thursday, when Hearts were 3-0 down by half-time.

"There were a lot of differences," Sergio said. "In the first leg, we gave them too much space and respected them too much.

"Then we were just smelling the ball - we did not touch it for the first 45 minutes.

"Now things are changing and I am happy with that."

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