For Spurs, it will be of little solace that these are the kind of nights – with the volume turned up, the drama near unremitting and knockout football at its most attractive – that can make the Champions League feel so special.
This could have been one of the great nights for this club and, very nearly, it was. Instead, it became a harrowing reminder they have much to learn at this level and, having thrown it away, they might just have to accept the allegations of naivety that come their way.
Any analysis should take into account that, over two legs, Mauricio Pochettino’s side played some exhilarating attacking football against nine‑times finalists, scored three times against a side that had not conceded a Serie A goal since December and were still ploughing forward in those heart-stopping moments when Harry Kane’s 90th-minute header came off the turf, thudded against the post and was hacked off the goal-line.
Ultimately, though, the night swung on a spell in the second half when Gonzalo Higuaín and Paulo Dybala both scored within three minutes of one another to turn the game upside-down and maroon Spurs 4-3 behind on aggregate. And if there is one thing we know about the Italian champions, with all that rich experience in their backline, it is that they know how to defend a one‑goal lead.
As much as Spurs will be accused of blowing it, Massimiliano Allegri and his players deserve enormous credit given there are statistics to show that only 17% of sides qualify in Champions League knockout ties when they have drawn 2-2 in the home leg. Juve had to do it the hard way, with Son Heung-min scoring first on 39 minutes, and in the process they needed to demonstrate all the knowhow that has helped them reach two of the previous three finals. Yet this was not just a victory for their powers of endurance. They had shown from the start that they were willing to attack in numbers and it was a marvellous piece of forward play from Higuaín to put in Dybala for the winning goal. The left-footed finish was not too bad, either.
Spurs could argue that Andrea Barzagli, the defender who made that late goal-line clearance, ought to have been sent off in the first half for bringing down his studs on Son’s thigh and then, just for good measure, doing the same again while expertly feigning an apology. Barzagli, two months shy of his 37th birthday, had worked out early on that Son had the beating of him and carried out the assault with the air of a man who was not willing to tolerate younger, quicker opponents showing him up.
Uefa may decide to take disciplinary action. Yet the Spurs inquest should start with themselves because the reality is that, even before the second-half collapse, there were tell-tale signs that the home team had the capability to make life difficult for themselves.
That impression was hardened, for example, when the game was still goalless and Douglas Costa accelerated past Jan Vertonghen into the penalty area before the Spurs player made the mistake of diving in against an opponent he could not catch. It was a clear penalty and bewildering, to say the least, that the various match officials all gave Vertonghen the benefit of the doubt, particularly when the Champions League employs an additional assistant referee behind the perimeter line of the penalty area. These assistants do not appear to do a great amount and, in different circumstances, Juve could conceivably have left Wembley complaining that the relevant one here had a perfect view of the infringement.
At 0-0, it felt like a huge let-off and when Son opened the scoring it seemed even more that Vertonghen’s luck was in. Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli were all involved in the goal. Alli had the first chance but Barzagli’s sliding tackle diverted the ball outside the penalty area. Kieran Trippier turned it back in and Son had the good fortune of striking the shot against his standing foot before the ball looped in, almost in slow motion.
Ahead 3-2 on aggregate, Spurs were through unless they conceded twice and surely ought to have changed the tempo of the match to prevent it being so open. That did not mean they had to adopt ultra-defensive tactics, or halt their ambitions for another goal, but there could have been a better mix between attack and defence and it was easy in the final half an hour to see which team were veterans of this competition and which had been in the quarter-finals only once before.
Juve’s recovery began in the 64th minute when the substitute Stephan Lichtsteiner crossed from the right, Sami Khedira headed the ball on and Higuaín reacted at the far post to add the decisive touch with an angled volley beyond Hugo Lloris. Three minutes later, Dybala was racing behind an uneven backline to drive the ball past Lloris and the speed at which the game had swung in Juve’s favour was frightening.
It took a while for Spurs to shake their heads clear but they did rouse themselves for a late onslaught. Kane’s header was their best chance but he will also reflect on a first-half effort that went into the side netting, having taken the ball wide of Buffon. And though Son played with tremendous energy, his list of misses was even more extensive. Spurs were out and the manner of their exit will hurt immeasurably.
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