Written by Utchay Abugu
Once upon a time, there was a team who wanted to win..but wait a minute, there was nothing conventional about what happened last night.
It was indeed glorious: Spurs and Juventus locked horns in their round of 16, 2nd leg tie of football’s premier club competition – a perfect synthesis of grit, tenacity, self belief and pure quality, garnished in heartaches.
Tottenham Hotspurs were served another “L” by Juventus. The tie was delicately poised, after Spurs heroic 2-2 draw at Turin. Yes, they showed character, after a well worked free kick on the edge of the box, made by Pjanic, converted by Higuain gave them the lead. They piled on the misery with a 2nd, a few minutes later. Spurs suprised the football world and took the game by the scruff of the neck. The better team for 80mins, passing with purpose, finding pockets of spaces behind Juve’s back line, that conceded only once in 17 games on the bounce. Eriksen worked his magic, Dembele colossal, covered every blade of grass, yet it was Harry Kane who first latched onto a true ball by Dele Alli, rounded an on-rushing Buffon and scored.
Fast forward- Eriksen the Dane, crowned the night with an intelligent low curling free- kick (not taught in the academy) to decieve Gianluigi Buffon, a man with over 100 UCL appearances. Two away goals was a dream come true!
Next stop Wembley! On the night, all they needed was to do it all over again, but the tale took to a different tune.
The Bianconeri was quick off the block, like a house on fire, they pushed for an early goal, understandably so, in a 3-5-2 formation; Higuain (passing a late fitness test) and Dybala leading the line.
After a flurry of activities, Spurs started settling into their rythm. Matuidi who missed the first leg due to injury had no joy in a LW role as Davies made sure of that. Khedira and Pjanic couldn’t get a grip of proceedings in the midfield, as their lack of pace and the quick movement of Tottenham became a bridge too far.
Albeit, Juventus was denied a penalty in the 18th minute when Jan Vertonghen put on a risky challenge and brought down Douglas Costa in the box. The referee didn’t make the call much to the dismay of the Bianconeri.
Allegri was visibly animated in the technical area, even as Heung Son (the Korean Hazard with 14 goals this season), gave Barzagli nightmares on the right flank. They say a ripe banana can crack your tooth on a bad day- so it was when Kierian Trippier squared a ball across from the right, dropping in front of Son Heung-min, who hit a mis-cued shot, that neither a falling Chiellini or the scrambling Buffon could stop, as the ball hobbled across the line.
A Juventus exit? Very Plausible, as both teams kicked off the 2nd half without any change in personnel. On the hour mark, willy old fox Allegri proved that an old trick well done, is far better than a new one. He rang the changes, pulling out Benatia (on a yellow card) and Matuidi, replacing them with Stephan Lichtenstein and kwadwo Asamoah. Andrea Barzagli then slotted back into his preferred CB, to partner Chiellini who wore his heart of the sleeves, while Alex Sandro was pushed forward in a 4-4-2 formation. The effect left Mo Po grasping for his shadows; stunned and dazed; Juventus became a different kettle of fish. They took over the midfield, with the extra body, closed down spaces and was able to press high successfully for the first time on the night.
Khedira flicked a header, from a Lichtenstein cross to an unmarked Higuain, who gladly in a kung-fu style, poked the ball home. A touch of the dramatic, it was level on the night. Spurs started spurring, they lost their composure and Juventus; a master in the dark arts of winning, went for the jugular- a true ball from Gonzalo to Dybala, who made a 10 yards dart, in 1 v 1 with Hugo Lloris, sent the French national the wrong way and scored.
This was like your mom telling you to have your bath, after or before your dinner- either way you’d surely shower; there was an inevitability about Juventus after the substitutions by Max Allegri.
Tottenham was now caught in between- the downside too steep, Upside? Too hard to see from that position.
It was a final quarter of drama, near misses, with “ohhs” and “ahhs”. The London side thought they had equalised to take the tie into extra time when Kane, though in an off-side position, rose the highest to meet a cross, pulled his header to the left wood work, bounced behind a scrambling Buffon, but was cleared on the line by Barzagli, who saw Son Heung-min rushing to poke it home.
Juventus pulled another rabbit out of a hat, after a similar display last weekend in Serie A against Lazio.
Johan Cruyff once said “Italians can’t beat you, but you could end up losing”.
This showed that Allegri learnt from the heart break of 2016 against a certain Pep Guardiola and his rampaging Bavarian side after he lost 4-2.
Indeed a wonderful watch for the neutrals and Juve fans alike, Spurs lacked what La Vecchia Signora had in abundance- experience, three UCL final appearances in the last 4 years, is not up for debate.
This was a “lesson in ruthlessness” for Tottenham Hotspurs, a mentally fragile group.
Could this be a catalyst for Harry Kane to Madrid, who also taught PSG a thing or two on mental strength two nights ago?
As we regulgitate and applaud the spectacle last night, somethings are certain- death, taxes and Juventus making the UCL quarter-finals. While the melancholy of the defeat fills the air waves of Tottenham, there’s most certainly more than one way to play the beautiful game of football.
featured image credit Daily Express