Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Champions League: Tottenham Hotspur through after battling to draw against AC Milan

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: William Gallas (R) of Tottenham clears the effort of Robinho (3R) of Milan off the line during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan at White Hart Lane on March 9, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Sandro (L) of Tottenham clashes with Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Milan during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan at White Hart Lane on March 9, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Peter Crouch of Tottenham applauds the crowd during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan at White Hart Lane on March 9, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur 0 AC Milan 0 (Tottenham win 1-0 on aggregate): This time there was no blizzard of goals. Gareth Bale scarcely went on a single run down the left side. And when they come to look back on the great Champions League run of 2010-11, people might not easily recall the details of that home draw with Milan.

But what they will always remember is the night that Tottenham eliminated one of the competition's greatest clubs.

For the great entertainers of N17, who had scored 14 goals in their four previous Champions League home ties before last night, this was an occasion to show that their game has other depths.

They contained and restricted Milan, they defended beautifully — no one more so than captain Michael Dawson — and as a result they are in the last eight of the Champions League in their rookie season.

It is not the way of this Tottenham team to keep an opponent at bay in such a composed fashion and White Hart Lane would have loved a goal from their team to calm their nerves.

But this was a performance that takes Harry Redknapp's side up yet another level from the giddy, gung-ho new boys ready to trade goals with the opposition. This marked them out as a more mature, well-organised team altogether.

Dawson and William Gallas have kept a strikeforce of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho out for two games. The Brazilian Sandro came through a tough first half to get to grips with the game.

It would be a push to say that Spurs made it look easy but with the right draw it would not be impossible to imagine them reaching the semi-finals.

It is not often that a midfield of Redknapp's finds itself overwhelmed, numerically and tactically, but there was no ignoring the fact that in the first half, Milan found their way through the centre of Spurs more often than was comfortable for the home team.

Alongside Luka Modric was Sandro who has moved up the hierarchy ahead of Jermaine Jenas and, in the absence of the injured Tom Huddlestone, to be trusted with a game like this one.

Not everything went wrong for Sandro in the first half but he was fortunate to go in without a booking.

With Robinho and Alexandre Pato playing behind Ibrahimovic — and then three more behind those two — it felt like Spurs' midfield was stretched for long periods.

It is games such as these that they feel the pinch of playing with Rafael van der Vaart, who operates best when he is not being asked to pick up the slack in midfield.

It told in the first half with a 59 per cent possession count for Milan and much the better chances.

Spurs went nearest to conceding when Pato went round a stranded Heurelho Gomes, pulled the ball back and Robinho's deflected shot had to be cleared off the line by Gallas.

Gallas had done wonderfully well to get to the ball. Goal-line clearances are his speciality and the ricochet off the grounded Benoit Assou-Ekotto only made it more difficult.

There were other near misses too, notably a free-kick from Ibrahimovic in the 16th minute which Gomes pushed around the post. Sandro had given it away with a foul on Kevin-Prince Boateng.

Ibrahimovic looked a bit more effective than he usually does against English opposition.

There was not much to be picked up around goal for Spurs.

The absence of the still-not-fit Bale meant that every time the ball went out left, to Steven Pienaar, there was not the same sense of anticipation.

Spurs' best effort before the break was a free-kick from Van der Vaart that landed on top of Milan's goal.

After the break, it was a much better Spurs team.

They should really have put the tie well beyond Milan, with the chances they created at the start of the second half, and the pressure they exerted. Starting with Peter Crouch's header at the back post from Aaron Lennon's cross a minute into the half.

Crouch struggled with the crafty Italian strategy of backing into him every time the ball was played up to him in the air.

European referees see clashes

between Crouch and a defender and cannot believe it is anything other than a foul by the forward.

Under similar pressure from Clarence Seedorf, Crouch created another good chance with a knock down to Pienaar on 53 minutes but the South African could not get his foot to it.

A few minutes later, Lennon beat Mathieu Flamini all ends up and the ball into the box struck Seedorf on the hand.

Milan were wobbling but Spurs could not take advantage.

There was another questionable lack of judgement from Flamini went into the referee's book with a two-footed tackle on Assou-Ekotto.

It was the right decision from the Belgian Frank De Bleeckere but just one connecting stud away from a red card.

Milan drifted back into the game and Robinho was played into the right channel by Ignazio Abate and had time to get a shot off that Gomes did well to keep out.

Bale was sent on in the 66th minute for Van der Vaart who departed straight down the tunnel.

Just stepping to the touchline, the Welsh midfielder has the power to change the mood in White Hart Lane but he is not yet back to being the force he was since suffering that back injury.

A Pato shot that was narrowly wide was the very last scare.

Tottenham closed this game out with their supporters in full voice. Only when the final whistle went did they turn their attention to Arsenal's failure at the same stage on Tuesday.

It has been a long wait for that day to arrive.

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