Tottenham needed a miracle to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League. Not only did Spurs need to get a positive result at their end, but also hope for Internazionale to falter.
For Mauricio Pochettino and his men, something on those lines happened. Spurs left it late to find the equalizer at Camp Nou and Inter themselves failed to defeat PSV Eindhoven. It resulted in Tottenham qualifying, as they were ahead of Inter on away goals.
Spurs entered Camp Nou without defensive stalwarts like Davinson Sanchez and Kieran Trippier. The injuries to his first and second-choice right-backs meant that Pochettino deployed greenhorn Kyle Walker-Peters. The Englishman’s inexperience showed right from the start, his error directly contributing to a fabulous solo goal from Ousmane Dembele.
The goal was followed by both sides trying to poke and prod inside each other’s half. Phillipe Coutinho, in particular caused a lot of problems for Tottenham’s defensive line.
From Tottenham, Heung-min Son tested Ernesto Valverde’s defensive line. The South Korean scuffed a fabulous chance to equalize in the 31st minute. Son evaded Thomas Vermaelen and was one-on-one with Jasper Cillessen. The former Bayer Leverkusen man tried to place the ball in the far corner of the net, but the Dutch keeper got his foot to the ball.
Son was also in the midst of the action, five minutes later. He found space to release a shot from outside but it was too meek and Cillessen collected it easily. Spurs were showing signs of getting an equalizer but the finishing needed some sharpening.
On the other end, Spurs nearly conceded two goals in the 44th and 45th minute. Hugo Lloris did well to catch Ivan Rakitic’s powerful shot in the 44th minute. In the latter, Tottenham was extremely lucky as Coutinho danced his way into the box to release a shot. Lloris was frozen at his spot but the Brazilian’s effort grazed the bar and went out. The scoreline read FC Barcelona 1-0 Tottenham at half-time.
Spurs started the second-half on a more positive note. Christian Eriksen’s left-footed effort was denied by a fantastic Cillessen save in the 48th minute. The Danish midfielder attempted another one two minutes later, but the Catalan defense was there to block it.
Tottenham’s threat was becoming more evident. Harry Kane spurned a good chance in the 51st minute with his effort sailing into the stands.
Spurs’ expansive play, however, was also making them susceptible to counter-attacks. Coutinho nearly took advantage of this in the 55th minute but his effort was blocked by Walker-Peters.
One of the clearest opportunities for Spurs came in the 75th minute. Mousa Sissoko sent in a curling cross into Barca’s box. Lucas Moura headed it into the goal but Cillessen made a last-ditch save to deny the Brazilian. Had the Dutch keeper reacted a millisecond later, Spurs would have been level.
Moura’s atonement for the miss came around ten minutes later. Kane, who is often the finisher, switched roles to create for Spurs. He darted from the left wing and sent in a well-placed cross. Moura had a simple task; direct the ball into the goal. The Brazilian did that and sent the traveling fans to ecstasy.
Moura’s strike proved to be the differentiator in the group as Inter, surprisingly, drew 1-1 with PSV at the San Siro. Spurs’ better head-to-head record against the Nerazzurri, courtesy away goals meant that the London side pipped Inter to the second spot in Group B. Tottenham, quite frankly, crawled out of the suffocating qualification battle to reach the knockout stages. Luciano Spalletti, meanwhile, will have to come to terms with Europa League football now.