Super-sub Eriksen fires winner to keep Tottenham alive in the Champions League
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Champions League Group B: Tottenham Hotspur 1 Inter Milan 0
Christian Eriksen came off the bench to help Tottenham Hotspur keep alive their faint hopes of qualifying for the Champions League knock-out phase with a 1-0 Group B win over Inter Milan this evening.
It was a nervy night in Brent, but with the Spurs supporters behind the team from the first whistle to the last, Mauricio Pochettino’s men got the job done.
The Lilywhites knew they needed to defeat Inter to ensure they had something to play for away to Barcelona on December 11 in their final group fixture and they did with a mature performance which sends them up to second in Group B.
Spurs made four changes to the team which started the 3-1 Premier League win over Chelsea and Jan Vertonghen made his first start since the 2-0 success at Huddersfield Town on September 29.
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Harry Winks, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura were also recalled with Juan Foyth, Eric Dier, Eriksen and Heung-min Son not involved from the off this time.
The likes of Son, Eriksen and Dier were listed as substitutes, but Foyth had to sit this clash out after he wasn’t registered as part of the Champions League squad before the start of the tournament due to a lack of spaces.
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As expected, Inter handed a recall to captain and talisman Mauro Icardi while Matias Vecino and Ivan Perisic played from the beginning after not starting the 3-0 victory at home to Frosinone on Saturday in Serie A.
While Pochettino fielded a much-changed side compared to the one which lost late on at the San Siro back in September, opposite number Luciano Spalletti picked virtually the same XI except Danilo D’Ambrosio started in place of Joao Miranda.
The Nerazzurri supporters filled their section in the Wembley crowd early and made the most of their trip to the national stadium by belting out a full repertoire of songs a good hour before kick-off.
Rain had fallen prior to the 8pm start, but stopped by the time proceedings got underway at the national stadium.
It was a simple equation for the home side; win or else as only a victory would keep alive their hopes of reaching the round of 16.
Tension was in the air with both teams aware of what was at stake and unsurprisingly it was Tottenham who made the better start.
Harry Kane got a shot off after seven minutes from a tight angle and although it was too hot to handle for Samir Handanovic, his defenders cleared the danger.
Less than 60 seconds later and Spurs threatened again as Moura cut inside full-back Milan Skriniar and went down under a challenge by wide attacker Matteo Politano.
It was a classic forwards challenge, but referee Cuneyt Cakir waved away the home appeals even if they did appear to be justified.
The Lilywhite faithful were full of noise and were on their feet again with 12 on the clock when Kane turned well and drove at the Inter defence.
He feed club and international team-mate Dele Alli and he let fly from 20-yards, but his fierce drive failed to test Handanovic and it remained goalless.
Against Chelsea, Spurs were two goals to the good by the quarter of an hour mark and while it was still goalless at Wembley this time, they had begun with great intent.
Pochettino’s side continued to be on the front foot and Lamela tried his luck in the 18th minute, but fired wide and not via a deflection like he proclaimed.
Following a frantic opening, with Tottenham seeking an opener, the game settled down some more by the midway point of the first half with Inter growing into it.
Spalletti’s men won two corners in quick succession, but failed to make the most of them and yet were definitely regaining a foothold in the contest.
A yellow card for Toby Alderweireld, after he cynically pulled down Icardi, only reinforced the point the Italians were waking up.
The resulting free kick came to little and it was Moussa Sissoko who helped to get Spurs back on top on the half an hour mark.
He intercepted a stray pass deep inside Tottenham’s half and drove forward with a real purpose before he found Alli.
The playmaker dummied smartly for Moura out wide on the left, but the Brazilian’s curling shot was easy for Handanovic and a good opening had come and gone.
Nevertheless, the move had got the Spurs fans back on their feet and give the hosts the impetus again.
Two minutes later and the Lilywhites threatened again as Alli surged into the area before Sissoko had an effort blocked and Ben Davies’ low strike was also blocked.
Again the pressure was ramping up and in the 38th minute Tottenham went so close to the opener in this crucial Group B tie.
Spurs retained possession well and after Alli and Lamela had combined, it was Moura who found Winks in space around 25-yards-out. Despite options to both his left and right, the academy graduate tried his luck and went so close to scoring.
Winks curled an effort over Handanovic, but it struck the crossbar and bounced back out to safely as a first Champions League goal evaded him.
Just before the break the visitors made a change as the anonymous Radja Nainggolan was replaced by ex-West Bromwich Albion midfielder Borja Valero in a move which seemed enforced rather than tactical.
A minute of stoppage time was added on at the end of the first half and Serge Aurier had to be switched on when substitute Valero controlled inside the area, but the Ivory Coast captain stood up well and won the ball to ensure it was goalless at the break.
Both sides exchanged shots early into the second period, but Vecino dragged his low effort wide and Kane’s curler was tame and easy for Handanovic.
Tottenham then forced two corners in quick succession with the second courtesy of Aurier’s blocked shot, but again Inter held firm in the knowledge a draw would be enough to send them through to the knock-out phase.
The previous Champions League winners responded soon after with Vecino winning a free kick in a dangerous position after an Alli foul in the 55th minute.
Politano took the responsibility and his low drive was heading on target, but Davies stuck out a leg and blocked it behind for a corner, which came to nothing.
Inter weren’t finished there though, as three minutes later they broke at pace and the ball come for Icardi, but bizarrely he looked to find a team-mate instead of taking the shot on and knocked the ball out of play.
Spalletti’s side were looking a real threat now and another opportunity occurred in the 62nd minute as Ivan Perisic crossed in, but Skriniar didn’t anticipate the cross and as a result failed to get the desired touch at the back post.
Pochettino had seen enough and Son was introduced with 28 minutes left with Moura making way and the South Korean was immediately into the action – winning a corner following a bursting run down the left.
More Spurs pressure followed as a lovely move resulted in Lamela’s cross being knocked down for Alli, but he could only slice wide from the edge of the area.
It was one of the last bits of involvement for Argentinian Lamela as he was replaced by Eriksen with 70 on the clock.
The Denmark attacker’s first task was to whip in a free kick and it really should have produced the breakthrough for Spurs.
Eriksen’s delivery was beautiful and Vertonghen looked destined to find the net, but took his eye off the ball at the last moment and got his header wrong as he headed wide of Handanovic’s goal.
Inter nearly made Spurs pay seconds later when Valero played in Perisic and he let fly from six-yards yet Lloris smartly saved at his near post.
It would prove a critical moment in the match as in the 80th minute the deadlock was finally broken in Brent.
The man of the moment Sissoko was unsurprisingly at the heart of it as finally Spurs had broken down Inter’s watertight defence.
Sissoko drove forward with the ball and surged past three players before he had the presence of mind to tee up Alli inside the area, and the playmaker showed a typical cool head to set Eriksen and the substitute finished with aplomb.
It was a wonderful goal and took the Wembley roof off with Eriksen showing all of his class to perfectly lift the ball over Handanovic and high into the net.
Spurs had to stay switched on and Lloris was called into action again minutes later as full-back D’Ambrosio tried his luck, but the World Cup winner was equal to it and pushed away from goal.
Pochettino’s final substitution was to introduce Dier for Winks, who left the pitch to a standing ovation after another excellent display.
As the clock hit 90 only three minutes of stoppage time was added on and Tottenham knew the finish line was almost in sight.
Lloris wasn’t called into action anymore, but a late corner caused brief panic with Inter custodian Handanovic going up for it.
The delivery evaded the away goalkeeper, but did come for Kwadwo Asamoah and his stinging drive was on target, yet brilliantly blocked by Alderweireld and the full time whistle soon followed.
Spurs’ big week which saw them face Chelsea, Inter and Arsenal was two/thirds complete and Tottenham had claimed six points following two strong performances at Wembley Stadium.
Next up for Pochettino’s team is the small matter of a north London derby on Sunday at the Emirates, but they will go their full of confidence and eyeing another victory.
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris; Aurier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies; Sissoko, Winks (Dier 87); Lamela (Eriksen 70), Alli, Moura (Son 62); Kane.
Unused substitutes: Gazzaniga, Rose, Walker-Peters, Llorente.
Inter Milan: Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, De Vrij (Miranda 82), Skriniar, Asamoah; Vecino, Brozovic; Politano (Balde 81), Nainggolan (Valero 44), Perisic; Icardi.
Unused substitutes: Padelli, Ranocchia, Miranda, Candreva, Martinez.