Tottenham Hotspur are through to the Last Eight of the Champions League after drawing with AC Milan at White Hart Lane tonight. The Lilywhites, 1-0 up after beating the Rosseneri at the San Siro, held their austere counterparts to a 0-0 and are now just four games from a scarcely believable Wembley final.
Spurs started the match at a frantic rate, closing AC Milan down with ferocious speed and aggression. Peter Crouch, an obvious out ball was found from either flank with his neat knock downs to Rafael van der Vaart causing all kinds of problems for the Rosseneri, particularly Christian Abbiati who received an early kick to the face after diving bravely at the Dutchman’s feet.
Massimiliano Allegri’s men then started to take the pace of the game by controlling possession of the ball through midfield, switching the ball from flank to flank as they looked to penetrate the slow Tottenham defence. The men in white resorted to giving away needless free kicks, one of which forced Heurelho Gomes to dive full stretch across his goal to deny Zlatan Ibrahimovic from fully thirty yards.
With Milan dictating the game, and Spurs perhaps feeling the pressure, the home side began to drop back towards the edge of their 18-yard box. This in effect gave the experienced Italian side all the impetus they needed and with their patient approach it was only a matter of time before they forced a clear cut opening.
The inevitable happened when Ibrahimovic fed Pato on the edge of the box. Gomes raced off his line to thwart his fellow countryman but the striker read the ‘keepers intentions and raced past him into a wide position. His low cross found Robinho facing an open goal but Benoit Assou-Ekotto to throw himself in front of the weak shot and deflect it upwards with his head, the ball lobbing ominously towards the back of the net only for William Gallas to clear the ball off the line.
Sensing the game beginning to drift away from them Spurs began to pick up the pace of their game. The prime architects as ever were Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart.The duo creating everything of worth for the Lilywhites and the only real players to test Abbiati in the Milan goal.
By contrast Steven Pienaar, out on the left in place of the injured Gareth Bale, kept was being pulled all over the place by Abate. The South African midfielder seemed unsure whether to tuck in or pull out wide with the end result being the Tottenham midfield horribly over balanced.
Just as the occasion got to Arsenal in the Camp Nou the night before, Tottenham looked nervous and scared to take the game on its merits and play to their strengths, just as they did in Milan two weeks previous.
Surprisingly, Gareth Bale was not brought on at half time but given Spurs’ lack of penetration and impetus it was only a matter of time before the Welshman made his long awaited return.
Within the first two minutes of the second half Aaron Lennon stated his intentions for the first time. His driven cross was met by Peter Crouch on the edge of the six yard box but the lanky striker knocked the ball down into space when he really should have scored and then mere seconds later Marius Jankulovski mercilessly whipped the winger down when a quick break threatened to expose Milan’s defence.
The resulting yellow card picked up by the defender gave Lennon the edge he needed as Spurs began to look for him at every occassion. Jankulovski, obviously afraid of getting sent off, started to drop off and all of a sudden Spurs were penetrating Milan down the flank with child like ease.
However, a blind pass by the otherwise impressive Sandro almost put Robinho in on the Spurs goal. Good defending to deny the Brazilian an opportunity to shoot and laziness by Ibrahimovic, in an offside position, saving Tottenham from going one goal down.
Minutes later and Spurs once again conspired to let AC Milan back into the game. Heurelho Gomes telegraphed a long throw out to van der Vaart, Thiago Silva read the ‘keepers intentions and whipped the ball away before the Dutchman even knew what was happening. Silva found Pato who fed Robinho inside the six yard box. The ex-Man City man pulled on the ball only for Gomes to tip the ball off his toe and in the ensuing scramble the ball was somehow prodded wide.
Spurs living dangerously as they enjoyed their best period.
The game then started to drift towards a stalemate as neither side could force a way through and a flurry of substitutions were exchanged as each manager looked to gain the momentum for the last 20 minutes.
One of those substitutes, Alexander Merkel, produced a little bit of magic that almost brought Milan level. His pinged pass to Robinho was deftly laid off to Pato on the edge of the box but his venomous shot went wide at the near post, rustling the side netting.
With ten minutes to go nerves were showing on both sides and the time for leaders to show their mettle came into being. Luka Modric, Sandro, and Michael Dawson rose to the occasion and took the ball in tight situations, cleared when it was needed, and showed bravery in the face of history when all else had failed.
24 hours after their North London rivals had been knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur got the result they needed to get through to the Quarter Finals.
This is a huge result in terms of European football. AC Milan sit on top of Serie A while Spurs are a distant 5th in the English Premier League. To keep a team like Milan scoreless over two legs while dictating the ebb and flow of the games speaks volumes about the great job that Harry Redknapp has achieved since taking over at White Hart Lane in October 2008.
On a personal note, this game was the 13th time Zlatan Ibrahimovic has faced an English side in the Champions League and he has yet to finish on a winning side. His performance is indicative of the decline of Serie A.
For Redknapp and Spurs, they will be delighted at getting the result they thoroughly deserved. However, the manner of their performance, shaky at best in the first half, good at best in the second, will be of great concern to their manager and he will be looking to pick up his side to the form they are capable of showing for the Quarter Finals.
Tottenham v AC Milan line-ups
Tottenham: Gomes 5, Corluka 5, Dawson 8, Gallas 7, Assou-Ekotto 7, Lennon 7, Modric 6, Sandro 6, Pienaar 5 (Jenas 70 6), Van der Vaart 6 (Bale 67 4), Crouch 6 (Pavlyuchenho 82 5). Subs: Cudicini, Hutton, Bale, Jenas, Pavlyuchenko, Defoe, King.
AC Milan: Abbiati 6, Abate 6, Thiago Silva 7, Nesta 6, Jankulovski 6 (Antonini 70 6), Boateng 6 (Merkel 75 5), Flamini 6 (Strasser 87), Seedorf 6, Robinho 6, Ibrahimovic 4, Alexandre Pato 6. Subs: Amelia, Strasser, Papastathopoulos, Oddo, Merkel, Yepes, Antonini.
Referee: Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium)