Wednesday 26 July 2017

Redknapp's defiant Spurs complete their Italian job

Tottenham 0
AC Milan 0
(Tottenham go through 1-0 on agg)

Tottenham's William Gallas clears the effort of Robinho (L) off the line during last night's Champions League round of 16 second leg match at White Hart Lane. Photo: Getty Images
Tottenham's William Gallas clears the effort of Robinho (L) off the line during last night's Champions League round of 16 second leg match at White Hart Lane. Photo: Getty Images

Henry Winter

One of the greatest nights in the history of Tottenham Hotspur saw a performance not rooted in the traditional crowd-pleasing flair but in resilience, in a determination to resist AC Milan's constant attacks.

Guts brought the glory last night.

Never can a stalemate have been so rapturously celebrated. Brilliantly defending Peter Crouch's San Siro goal, Spurs reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League as those with cockerels on their chest crowed "Are you watching Arsenal?"

If the praise will be spread amongst superb performers like the indomitable Michael Dawson and Sandro, a marvellous resistance movement in midfield, then Tottenham fans can also claim their due.

For with 10 minutes remaining, and with Milan waxing and Spurs waning, the home supporters lifted Harry Redknapp's tiring players with a rousing rendition of "Come On You Spurs". It was sung with a visceral intensity, a deep belief that their team could survive this Milan onslaught.

The players responded. Benoit Assou-Ekotto put in an immense tackle on Pato. Dawson continued to relish his duel with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Joyous

Sandro was superb, a figure of heavyweight stature between the boxes, nicking the ball and creating in equal measure as Redknapp looked on. Proudly. As Redknapp heads off for a joyous round of golf this morning, he can reflect on progressing through another round of high-class football.

This is a rollercoaster of a fairy-tale, seeing Redknapp guide Spurs from the brink of oblivion against Young Boys Berne and flirting with humiliation against Inter Milan and now into the last eight.

Great concentration and commitment is required by Spurs in the Premier League if they are to qualify for next season's Champions League but the Continental fires are burning nicely.

With Arsenal out, Spurs' European glow will feel particularly warm. The noise had been deafening from the first whistle, both sets of supporters at their lung-breaking best. Mathieu Flamini felt the wrath of the Spurs fans for his Arsenal connections and for almost snapping Vedran Corluka in two at San Siro.

Yet nerves crept into Spurs' beseechings in a first half dominated by Milan, a far more vibrant force than in the first leg as seen in their 59pc possession.

The visitors were far more direct, hitting Ibrahimovic early, forcing Dawson hurriedly to turn one ball behind for a corner as the drama unfolded.

There was more vim in Milan's movement, more belief. They looked a real team, well-balanced and threatening. Flamini, Clarence Seedorf and Kevin-Prince Boateng patrolled deep midfield, cramping Rafael van der Vaart's style. Boateng was particularly assiduous in running left to hound Aaron Lennon. They looked a club steeped in a knowledge of European football.

Up front, Milan's three attackers, Robinho and Pato nimbly supporting Ibrahimovic, began to live up to their famous names. The first half lacked a goal but not for the want of trying by Milan.

When Robinho fell under Assou-Ekotto's challenge, far too easily for local tastes, Sandro reacted sharply to clear Pato's poor free-kick. Then Ibrahimovic unleashed a 35-yard free-kick, demanding a save at full stretch from Gomes.

Spurs were under sustained pressure, Sandro fighting fires in the centre. Dawson was engaged in an aerial battle with Ibrahimovic, who was looking far more the model modern target-man his admirers regularly promote. These were painful times for Spurs. Challenging for the ball, Ibrahimovic accidentally caught William Gallas in the head.

Still the visitors flowed forward, streaks of red and blue across the green of White Hart Lane. Robinho darted down the right, slipping the ball in to Pato, whose shot was blocked by Dawson.

Spurs' 4-4-1-1 was being outmanoeuvred in midfield, and Milan continued to threaten. When Pato was released down the inside-left channel, Gomes ran out, Brazil versus Brazil.

Pato won, leaving his compatriot on the deck with Spurs goal vulnerable.

Pato cut the ball back to another Brazilian, Robinho, whose shot caught Assou-Ekotto and dropped goalwards. Only Gallas' prescient positioning rescued Spurs. The moment Gomes went walkabout, the Frenchman guarded the line, clearing the ball from under the bar.

Spurs broke out rarely, looking to release Lennon down the right, who first had to get past the busy Boateng, a far more influential midfielder than during his short spell here. Lennon was also finding Marek Jankulosvski far tougher to elude than Luca Antonini at San Siro.

Such was Milan's control, Lennon even had to track back to stifle one Jankulovski break. Opportunity did knock for Spurs, albeit quietly.

Van der Vaart enjoyed Spurs' best two chances of the half, a free-kick that flew just over and then a low drive that thudded into Christian Abbiati's midriff.

Milan also had a marvellous chance, the ball flowing deep into Spurs' area, guided forward by the clever feet of Robinho and Ibrahimovic before Pato tested Gomes. With the Brazilian unable to hold the ball, Assou-Ekotto ran in to clear the danger. Back Milan came again, Boateng's shot blocked by Modric.

Spurs began the second half in far more assertive fashion. Lennon was quick to show, lifting spirits and crosses. One steepling delivery picked out Crouch at the far post but the striker headed back across to nobody.

Lennon's threat was now obvious, soon confirmed when he was poleaxed by Jankulovski. Flamini then caught Assou-Ekotto, triggering a huge cheer when he was booked. These were good moments for Spurs, who screamed for a hand-ball when Seedorf inelegantly dealt with a Lennon cross.

The tension was unremitting. Robinho, Pato and Robinho again tested Gomes in a mad scramble. Then Gareth Bale arrived, greeted with great noise by the Spurs fans and with a late challenge from Flamini.

Redknapp sought to tighten midfield, sending on Jermaine Jenas. But Massimiliano Allegri was also making significant chances, notably the arrival of the promising Alexander Merkel. Sandro headed out a fierce drive by Merkel. Back came Merkel again, linking well with Pato, whose shot found the side-netting with the Milan fans convinced it was in.

As the clock ticked down, some Spurs supporters almost could not bear to watch. But they could sing. And then came the chant, sweeping Spurs on a tide of emotion into the quarter-finals. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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