Tottenham survive Barca struggle to keep stadium dream alive
“The only place to watch UEFA Champions League in London”, it read, popping up on screens all over the capital, a mischievous dig at Arsenal and Chelsea after each failed to qualify for Europe’s premier tournament.
The joke though was backfiring, repeatedly, with every delay to the new stadium’s opening and Spurs seemingly set to crash out in the group stage, having played all of their home games at Wembley.
Lucas Moura’s 85th-minute equaliser in Barcelona on Tuesday keeps the dream alive, for now at least, as Tottenham snatched the 1-1 draw they ultimately needed to sneak through second in Group B.
There are no guarantees. The first legs of the last 16 are scheduled for February 12-13 or 19-20, by which time Tottenham hope to have moved into their new base. The club plans to hold discussions with UEFA, who are likely to demand confirmation of the venue well in advance.
Mauricio Pochettino, in the depths of the Camp Nou and revelling in his side’s dramatic comeback, could not resist looking ahead.
“I always said anything is possible in football if you have faith and quality,” he said. “To have the idea to play the next stage in the new stadium is a massive boost for everyone at the club.”
Tottenham have reached the Champions League’s knock-out stages in consecutive years for the first time, the latest mark of progress under Pochettino’s leadership.
This could also be a psychological boost at a point in their season when points and position remain intact but performances have lagged, and Wembley, in particular, has begun to sap morale.
“We need to be clever now about how we manage that energy from tonight,” Pochettino said. “The connection is massive.”
They will hope for a kinder draw on Monday than the one that landed them Juventus last year, scant reward for what was a far more assured group campaign than this one.
Porto appear the more favourable foe, with Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid likely to be joined by Bayern Munich and Juve as the other possibile opponents n the pot of group winners.
Whoever the opponent, Spurs will not enjoy some the generosity offered by Barcelona, who gave Lionel Messi only 27 minutes off the bench, while also resting Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Luis Suarez and goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Ousmane Dembele scored a stunning early goal, which his coach Ernesto Valverde said only a player of his talent could score. It was also the goal of a player with a 105 million euro price tag.
The 160-million-euro Philippe Coutinho also started. He hit the post twice, the second time just after Inter Milan had equalised against PSV Eindhoven. That would have been Tottenham dead and buried.
But few could begrudge Pochettino’s side a point. Tottenham had 16 attempts at goal to Barcelona’s 13, six of them on target to Barca’s three. Spurs ran further, almost seven kilometres more, and recovered more balls.
They completed exactly the same number of passes and shared possession 50-50, a feat rarely pulled off at the Camp Nou. Valverde smiled when asked if he would like Real Madrid to draw them next.
Most of all, Spurs were resilient. They missed a hatful of chances and trailed by a goal initiated by the young Kyle Walker-Peters’ mistake. They stayed patient, refused to over-exert and finally found their reward.
“It just wasn’t going in but we carried on and got the goal back,” said Harry Kane. “We still carried on trying to score more.”
In the Champions League, Tottenham have beaten Real Madrid at Wembley and AC Milan at the San Siro where Gareth Bale also blew away Inter Milan.
Spurs might have had more thrilling European nights but on Tuesday at the Camp Nou, the satisfaction was in the struggle. The club could exhale at the end of a nerve-shredding 94 minutes and an exasperating few months.
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