Attack-minded Tottenham rewarded for bravery against Barcelona at Camp Nou
A 1-1 draw in Spain saw Spurs reach the last 16 of the Uefa Champions League after PSV Eindhoven hold Inter Milan
For the second season in succession, all four English teams are through to the last 16 of the Uefa Champions League. Given the recent poor performances of English teams in Europe’s biggest tournament, that is notable. As was the 1-1 draw for Tottenham Hotspur in Barcelona. Spurs needed their late equaliser as PSV Eindhoven drew with Inter Milan.
It takes a brave manager to attack Barcelona away, even one with several of their best players on the bench. Spurs, under Mauricio Pochettino, a former manager of Barca’s neighbours Espanyol, were that team.
Backed by a huge following of 4,800 in the sold out away section and with fans sitting all around Camp Nou, Spurs knew they had to match or better Inter’s result at home to bottom-of-the-group PSV.
Those travelling fans were deeply encouraged when they saw the Barcelona bench, which could easily have passed as the world’s best six-a-side team, with Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Arturo Vidal among it.
Still, Barcelona had two players - Ousame Dembele and Philippe Coutinho - who cost twice as much as the entire Spurs team. Both would trouble the North London side, with Coutinho twice hitting the post with curling shots.
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After a minute of respect for Barcelona’s longest serving club president, Josep Nunez (1978-2000), who died recently and after a huge flag had been unfurled in English in support of the Catalan political prisoners who are now on a hunger strike, the game finally began.
Barca went ahead through their second most in-form player. The goal came in the seventh minute when Dembele took advantage of a mistake by Kyle Walker-Peters in his own half. The flying Frenchman nicked the ball off the inexperienced 21-year-old right-back as he dallied with it, then used his speed to get past the player again before slowing to beat the sliding Harry Winks and side-footing superbly past Hugo Lloris.
There have been issues with Dembele’s professionalism and turning up late for training, but he has also scored or assisted nine goals in his last nine games. He is a prodigiously talented player and the vast fee which made him the second most expensive player in the world in 2017 isn’t being laughed at so much. He’s a hit with the fans, too, who sang “Ousame Dembele,” to the tune of the Marseillaise. It was a bad start for Spurs, but better was the news that PSV had taken the lead in Milan.
Though initially inferior, Spurs grew into the game and created chances. They pressed high, Son Heung-min was effective out wide and the visitors started the second period well, with Christian Eriksen finding space in the Barcelona half. Harry Kane was clear through after 50 minutes with only Jasper Cillessen to beat. Barca’s second-choice goalkeeper was excellent but he wasn’t fully needed at that moment for chased by Clement Lenglet, the England striker skied the shot high and wide.
Spurs’ players then looked across as a loud cheer went up – Messi was warming up. The Argentine, who had one of his best games for the club against Espanyol on Saturday, came on to loud cheers. Even Spurs fans wanted to see him play, just not as brilliantly as he had at Wembley when he played a starring role in Barca’s 4-2 September win.
It was Spurs, though, who came closest to scoring and who continued to attack. Their reward came late, but it was fully deserved when, in the 84th minute Lucas Moura turned in a cross from Kane.
“What a performance from the lads,” tweeted Kane. “Did more than enough to win the game but going through was the aim, so job done!”
For so long, Spurs didn’t reach the Champions League. Now that they are regulars they are also adept at qualifying from the group phase.
That’s the least of what is expected of Barca, and manager Ernesto Valverde said: “Our group was the most complicated. To be qualified with two weeks in advance says a lot. We have accomplished one more important goal.”
Many more are expected, but it was Moura’s goal which made the trip so memorable for so many Spurs fans, that and Pochettino applauding them to a huge roar 15 minutes after the final whistle. He – and they – could be rightly proud of their players.
Updated: December 12, 2018 09:02 AM