The road to Madrid: Tottenham Hotspur


Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham have been on the brink of elimination countless times during this Champions League campaign. Prost International Editor-in-Chief Tom Hardy recalls the Lilywhites’ incredible journey to Saturday’s final.

Group Stage


Tottenham’s dramatic road to the final began back in September when they faced off against Inter Milan at the San Siro. After a Christian Eriksen strike looked to get Spurs off to the perfect start, the ‘Spursy’ tag, an adjective denoting Spurs’ often failure to live up to expectations, was branded on Pochettino’s team once again when Mauro Icardi equalised for I Nerazzurri before Matías Vecino headed in during added time to complete the comeback.

They returned to London on matchday two to face Barcelona at Wembley as Lionel Messi and co outclassed them at the national stadium to triumph 4-2. Tottenham showed promise as Harry Kane and Erik Lamela both netted but a combination of sloppy defending and superior quality from their opponents meant after two fixtures, Spurs were pointless.

A trip to Eindhoven to face PSV did eventually give them their first point of Group B. A Toby Alderweireld mistake gave Mexican winger Hirving Lozano the chance to strike first and leave Tottenham staring at an early humiliating elimination.

Strikes from Lucas Moura and Harry Kane then turned the game on its head, Tottenham heading for their first group win. With Spurs cruising, captain Hugo Lloris denied Lozano a clear chance to equalise and headed for an early bath to suddenly leave his side hanging on with ten minutes left. Substitute Michel Vorm made saves to attempt to secure Pochettino’s men all three points but a late Luuk de Jong goal meant the shares were spoilt.

Mark van Bommel’s PSV arrived in England two weeks later. As so often in their Group B journey so far, Tottenham conceded early. Gastón Pereiro’s corner found Luuk de Jong unmarked in the box for the Dutchman to head home and leave Paulo Gazzaniga furious at his defence. Tottenham knew that their failure to win would see them eliminated.

Up step Harry Kane. Partnering with the effective Fernando Llorente, Kane volleyed home with ten minutes left to play to set up a tense finish. Despite their repetitive crossing being largely unproductive all game, a Ben Davies cross provided the winner. A high ball in from the Wales international found the head of Kane, who headed the ball into the net thanks to a deflection off a PSV defender, simultaneously keeping Tottenham’s Champions League dreams alive.

Harry Kane’s 89th-minute header kept Tottenham’s Champions League hopes alive (Photo: Andrew Fosker/Seconds Left/Rex/Shutterstock)

Knowing they had to win again to keep hopes alive, Tottenham entertained Inter Milan at Wembley. After a match that remained goalless for the majority, Spurs once again triumphed when the odds were against them as Christian Eriksen’s 80th-minute goal snatched the points away from the Italians.

The result meant that qualification from Group B was now in Tottenham’s control as a win at the Camp Nou against Barcelona, or matching Inter’s result, on the final matchday would secure progress.

The fixture in Barcelona started like so many of Tottenham’s matches had during their run, with conceding an early goal. Ousmane Dembele’s early finish left many Spurs fans fearing the inevitable disappointment they have become so accustomed to but news of a PSV goal at the San Siro sprang hope. Spurs created chances and were the dominant side against a rotated Barca side, who knew they were already group winners but couldn’t find that illustrious goal.

Mauro Icardi’s strike in Italy meant that Spurs were set to exit the competition until once again they struck late thanks to Lucas Moura. The game finished with wild celebrations coming from the away support before seven minutes of added time in Milan quieted proceedings. With time ticking away, the final whistle blew in Italy to secure the unlikeliest of comebacks as Spurs progressed to the last 16.

Round of 16: Tottenham v Borussia Dortmund

Mauricio Pochettino’s men were rewarded for their Group B exploits with a tie against Group A winners and Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund. Lucien Favre’s BVB were a familiar foe for Spurs having faced them in the Europa League and Champions League over the previous two years.

The German side were the favourites for the tie when they arrived in London but key injuries for both sides including the likes of Harry Kane and Marco Reus meant the game was there for the taking. A very even first half saw the teams go in goalless before a superb second-half performance from Tottenham put the tie in their favour. After the in-form Heung-Min Son volleyed home a cross from the exceptional Jan Vertonghen, who was playing in the unfamiliar role of left wing-back, Tottenham ran riot as further late goals from the Belgian and substitute Fernando Llorente meant the Londoners held a three-goal advantage travelling to Germany.

Jan Vertonghen was imperious over the two legs as Tottenham impressive dispatched of Dortmund (Photo: Getty Images)

With the Signal Iduna Park and the ‘Yellow Wall’ facing them, Pochettino was well aware the task was not complete. A barrage of Dortmund pressure threatened to burst open the Tottenham floodgates but a string saves by the heroic Hugo Lloris kept them at bay, including an acrobatic stop from the returning Reus. Their patience and solidarity paid off when a counter-attack released Harry Kane with the chance to shoot, the England captain firing past Roman Bürki in the Dortmund net, also becoming Spurs’ all-time top scorer in Europe in the process. That away goal sealed progression, a 1-0 victory, 4-0 aggregate scoreline and their first quarter-final since the 2010/11 season.

Quarter-final: Tottenham v Manchester City

The quarter-finals of the Champions League signalled the return of European football to N17 as the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium hosted the tie. Pep Guardiola’s Man City were still on the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple after already having the Carabao Cup secured. City were the overwhelming favourites to progress as their Spanish head coach looked to dispel criticisms over his ability to win in Europe, his team met with a cauldron of noise from the home fans upon Tottenham’s European return home.

City had the perfect chance to once again condemn Spurs to an early goal when a controversial VAR penalty was given against Danny Rose for handball. Sergio Aguero stepped up for the Citizens but saw his penalty saved by Hugo Lloris, who had a habit of saving spot kicks having saved from Jamie Vardy and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the weeks leading up to the match. The save boosted the crowd further as Tottenham shaded the chances in the first half.

Deciding to leave the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane on the bench, City lacked much of the attacking impotence that Premier League viewers have become so accustomed to. Tottenham’s main attacking threat, marksman Harry Kane, exited the pitch immediately after a Fabian Delph challenge, scans later showing that the 25-year-old had sustained a potentially season-ending injury to his ankle.

The injury to ‘one of their own’ didn’t distract the Lilywhites from their objective and the goal they craved arrived on 78 minutes when their Player of the Season Heung-Min Son managed to keep a loose pass in play before cutting inside and firing past Ederson, handing the Londoners a 1-0 first leg advantage.

Harry Kane is battling against an ankle injury and the clock in order to be fit in time to face Liverpool on June 1st (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

The return leg at the Etihad will go down in Champions League folklore as one of the most entertaining encounters in the history of the competition. Learning from their first leg mistakes, Man City were attacking from the off and were rewarded with an opening goal when Raheem Sterling curled home after just four minutes. Two quickfire goals from Spurs’ star South Korean Heung-Min Son suddenly put Pochettino’s team in the ascendancy knowing City had to score four to progress. Bernardo Silva instantly responded and added another ten minutes later to make the game 3-2 to City and three apiece on aggregate after just 21 minutes of pulsating football.

The game eventually calmed down somewhat for the scores to remain the same at the break, Spurs 45 minutes away from a first ever Champions League semi-final. City were quick out the blocks as expected for the second half, Lloris making a superb save from De Bruyne to prevent City from grabbing a fourth. The fourth did arrive however, Sergio Aguero once again attempting to etch his name into Manchester City history books. Spurs had to score and they did just that as Fernando Llorente deflected the ball into the net off his hip and potentially his arm but unlike the first leg, Spurs were thankful for VAR’s ruling.

As the game dwindled away from City and Tottenham looked to set to advance on away goals, Raheem Sterling fired home in injury time to leave the blue half of Manchester in raptures and Tottenham devastated. The referee then signalled a VAR check was in play and that during the build-up to the goal, Sergio Aguero was standing in an offside position. The goal was chalked off and Tottenham survived the final minutes to advance in the most dramatic of fashions.

Semi-final: Tottenham v Ajax

After Ajax’s heroics against Real Madrid and Juventus, the Dutch team awaited Tottenham in the semi-final, both teams surprise candidates to make it this far in the competition. Ajax were the fairytale story of the competition, proving that football isn’t dead from the financial power exerted by clubs such as Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain.

Erik ten Hag’s team arrived in north London for the first leg having had an extra weeks rest due to changes in the Eredivisie’s scheduling after Ajax’s progression to this stage. Their freshness showed as they played Spurs off the park in the first half hour of the fixture, Donny Van de Beek’s strike after 15 minutes giving the Red and Whites an early lead. It threatened to get worse for Tottenham but once again their captain Hugo Lloris led by example in the Tottenham goal to prevent further damage.

Without the suspended Son, who had picked up his allotted quota of yellow cards for the competition, Tottenham rarely threatened in an attacking sense as Lucas Moura carried much of the burden to no avail. David Neres struck the post for the visitors which would have made Spurs’ trip to Amsterdam an almost impossible task but as it stood Ajax would take a one-goal lead back to Holland.

There was an uneasy feeling among Tottenham fans approaching the second leg as Spurs fans wondered whether they would ever get a better chance to reach a Champions League final. The match at the Johan Cruyff ArenA continued the common theme of Tottenham’s Champions League campaign, conceding an early goal.

This time around it was Ajax captain Matthijs de Ligt who rose highest from a corner to power de Godenzonen into a two-goal lead on aggregate and make the task even tougher for Tottenham. It seemed the occasion was becoming too much for Pochettino’s men as Hakim Ziyech seemingly put the game beyond doubt as he curled in to make it two-nil on the night and three-nil on aggregate.

But this wouldn’t encapsulate Tottenham’s seesaw Champions League campaign if it finished with a whimper. Were the ‘nearly men’ really going to fall at the final hurdle and continue their unconquerable battle with semi-finals? Well, they may well have been tarnished with that same ‘bottlers’ brush had it not been for their Brazilian speedster Lucas Moura.

A five-minute double from Moura towards the beginning of the second half suddenly burst the game into life and gave Tottenham hope of a first-ever Champions League final. Suddenly, from staring defeat in the face as they so often have in the competition, Pochettino and his team were on the brink, just requiring one more goal to progress via the away goals rule. Ajax recovered from the shock of conceding two as the game ticked into injury-time with ten Hag’s men so close to emulating heroes of the past by reaching a European final.

Lucas Moura’s last-gasp winner in Amsterdam sealed a famous comeback victory and a place in the Champions League final (Photo: Reuters)

It was not to be for the Dutchmen. A flick by Fernando Llorente, another by Dele Alli and the coolest of finishes by Lucas Moura to complete his hat-trick with the last kick of the game sparked unrivalled scenes in the modern history of Tottenham Hotspur. Moura had written his name into that very history with his exploits and simultaneously sent Spurs fans around the world into jubilant scenes, in disbelief that their team will be playing in a Champions League final on June 1st.

So often the team on the end of cruel defeats, Tottenham have finally had lady lucky give them the ultimate break to book their spot in Madrid. Mauricio Pochettino deserves the utmost credit for inspiring this team to the final, his tears and passion seen after the dramatic victories over Manchester City and Ajax a sight to behold for any football fan. They will now be labelled the underdogs once again when they face Liverpool in the battle to be crowned Europe’s best but if Tottenham’s journey to the Champions League final has told us anything, it is that they never know when they are beaten.


About Author

Comments are closed.