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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Tottenham looking to show 'anything is possible' in the Champions League

Mauricio Pochettino savours the challenge of having to beat visitors Inter Milan to stand a chance of reaching knockout stages

Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane is leading his teams bid to qualify for the knockout stages of the Uefa Champions League. EPA
Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane is leading his teams bid to qualify for the knockout stages of the Uefa Champions League. EPA

Tottenham Hotspur have been here before, and not merely because the delays in the construction of the new White Hart Lane mean they are still playing at Wembley. They have welcomed Italian opposition to England’s national stadium and departed ejected from the Uefa Champions League.

They were the better side for perhaps 160 minutes of last season’s tie against Juventus. The other 20 – the first 10 in Turin and a poor spell after the hour in London – proved crucial. Whether through experience or ruthlessness, cunning or cleverness, Juventus prevailed.

This season, Tottenham led Inter Milan for 32 minutes in September. Another damaging collapse, when Mauro Icardi and Matias Vecino scored late goals, transformed the result and thus the group.

So, courtesy of that superior head-to-head record, Inter only require a draw to eliminate Spurs. History could repeat itself, only at an earlier stage. Spurs face death by Serie A again.

“It is going to give us hope or give us a different reality that we cannot fight to get through,” manager Mauricio Pochettino said. “It is a decisive game.”

The Argentine tried to take the positives from a perilous position, savouring the chance to prove critics wrong.

“When people say something is going to be difficult I am so excited to show it is possible to do," he said. "We need to win the two games. We are going to try.”

But, as one of Tottenham’s best players this season, midfielder Moussa Sissoko, said: “In the last few games in the Champions League, we should do better.”

They took 16 points in a dominant group stage last season. They have four now and a final fixture away at Barcelona suggests it will be hard to double that tally.

Yet if the numbers indicate a dramatic regression, they also show how swiftly fortunes can fluctuate and how narrow the margins have been. Were games 75 minutes long, Spurs would be in second place on six points.

Yet but for two late Harry Kane goals against PSV Eindhoven, they would be out already.

They have become a byword for late drama. Thus far in their Champions League campaign, Spurs have conceded in the 85th, 87th, 90th and 92nd minutes. They have scored in the 78th and 89th minutes and had a man sent off in the 79th.

The margins can be narrow, the cost of an exit considerable, though Pochettino urged his players to ignore the financial implications.

They have prospered under pressure before. If their big-game pedigree was proved against Chelsea on Saturday, it was demonstrated in more dramatic fashion against the European champions last season.

“[Real] Madrid was a fantastic game,” Sissoko said. “We try to do the same. The best way to prepare for Milan was to win against Chelsea. We did it and we did it well.”

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Jan Vertonghen, left, Jan Vertonghen should make his first start in two months with Juan Foyth ineligible after being left out of Spurs’ Champions League squad. Reuters
Jan Vertonghen, left, Jan Vertonghen should make his first start in two months with Juan Foyth ineligible after being left out of Spurs’ Champions League squad. Reuters

A change will be required in the defence as Jan Vertonghen should make his first start in two months with Juan Foyth ineligible after being left out of Spurs’ Champions League squad. “That is so painful and it is a mistake that we cannot make again,” Pochettino said.

He has Italian ancestry and said he would like to manage in Serie A in the future, but not yet.

“I see myself here,” Pochettino added. “I dream of winning a trophy with Tottenham, maybe the Premier League in our new stadium.

"I will always have in my heart the Spurs fans because they’re amazing. In the future to also guide the Argentine team is my desire. The important thing is to be happy and I am right now.”

But he will be less happy if Spurs are out of the Champions League.