Sport Champions League

Monday 19 August 2019

Kane not able as Pochettino's Final gamble fails to pay off

 

Tottenham's Harry Kane walks past the trophy after losing the Champions League Final. Photo: REUTERS/Carl Recine
Tottenham's Harry Kane walks past the trophy after losing the Champions League Final. Photo: REUTERS/Carl Recine

Jason Burt

The news dropped at 6.50pm. Harry Kane would start. It was not unexpected but here was the confirmation that Mauricio Pochettino would be rolling the dice and betting on the forward's fitness; betting that he could lead Tottenham to winning the greatest prize in club football, the Champions League trophy.

It was one of those painful, tough decisions that Pochettino had alluded to the day before because it meant he dropped Lucas Moura. Never before in the history of this competition, in the history of football, surely, has a player scored such a decisive and dramatic hat-trick in a semi-final only to find himself on the bench for the final.

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Opinion was split on Kane but maybe he should have started with Moura? As the game unfolded it appeared to be one crying out for the Brazilian's pace and directness because, frankly, there was little incisive play, although it was Spurs who provided most of it.

It was not until the 66th minute that Moura was called for with Pochettino bringing off Harry Winks, who had been the other injury gamble for Spurs.

Kane had not played since April 9, when he again damaged lateral ligaments in his left ankle in the quarter-final first-leg against Manchester City with an expectation then that he may need surgery and his season was over.

Yes, Kane is a quick healer. But he has a record of such injuries and there is being fit and being match-fit - and match-fit for such an occasion. And yet it was expected and not least because of the strong bond between Pochettino and Kane. The Tottenham manager has previously claimed Kane's last-minute winner against Aston Villa in November 2014 saved his job.

That was only Pochettino's 17th game in charge and yet he feared for the sack after losing three of nine league games, in 11th place, with Kane coming off the bench to beat Villa with the last kick.

Pochettino has not forgotten that and since then the relationship with Kane has grown stronger and stronger with the manager also reasoning that the 25-year has contributed so much in Spurs incredible journey to this point.

It is remarkable how far they have both come. Was he being sentimental? Pochettino is an emotional character. "In the last few weeks we believed he would be ready. Yesterday it was confirmed," he said of Kane's fitness but it proved to be a hard opening 45 minutes with the striker's first involvement being to call for calm among his team-mates following Liverpool's controversial penalty.

Kane was not alone. In the cloying heat, which was so clearly a factor, the players appeared energy-sapped. That three-week break from the end of the Premier League seemed to have induced rust rather than revitalising them.

The passing was desperately poor and Kane touched the ball just 11 times in the first-half, fewer than any other Spurs player, but the same as Liverpool's number nine, Roberto Firmino, who was also an injury gamble, although it was difficult to gauge whether that was because of him or the general malaise.

Spurs needed more - a lot more - from their forwards but when Kane received a pass into him from Son, Virgil van Dijk was too strong. Nothing was falling for him but what kind of support was he receiving?

That was a difficult match-up for Kane - not that Van Dijk was impressing either - and both managers could not wait for half-time with Pochettino loitering at the mouth of the tunnel and Jurgen Klopp sprinting from his technical area once the whistle was blown. They had to change this; they had to galvanise this and get so much more from their players who appeared tired or maybe it was also nerves?

There was such a lack of intensity and such a pre-season feel to it all. And this was a Champions League Final!

At last Kane had a chance to turn and run with the ball and ghosted away from Joel Matip to appear to set up Son - only for the pass to run away from the Korean.

It seemed like the trigger for the game to liven up. Both sides had chances - genuine chances - and Spurs stepped it up although Liverpool went closest when substitute James Milner shot narrowly.

Finally the fans also responded. A game broke out before it lulled and started to gather momentum again and moved towards a tense conclusion with Spurs pushing on, with Moura playing in behind Kane, and Dele Alli also forward.

Pochettino gambled again and once again he prayed it would pay off.

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