Mission complete for Tottenham

Tottenham's Lucas Moura (front) celebrates with teammates Erik Lamela and Fernando Llorente after scoring the vital equaliser against Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Tuesday. The 1-1 result ensured that Spurs are through to the last 16 of the Champions
Tottenham's Lucas Moura (front) celebrates with teammates Erik Lamela and Fernando Llorente after scoring the vital equaliser against Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Tuesday. The 1-1 result ensured that Spurs are through to the last 16 of the Champions League at the expense of Inter Milan.PHOTO: REUTERS

Pochettino proud after Spurs' last-gasp turnaround to qualify for knockout stages

BARCELONA • Mauricio Pochettino hailed his players for achieving "mission impossible" after Tottenham completed an improbable turnaround to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.

The 1-1 draw at Barcelona put the exclamation point on Spurs' European campaign to consign their nightmare start in Group B to distant memory.

Pochettino's men had garnered only a point from their opening three games, but arrived at the Nou Camp knowing that Inter Milan had to better their result to go through.

The Spanish champions had already qualified as group winners and their much-changed line-up gave the away fans hope with Barca coach Ernesto Valverde handing Juan Miranda and Carles Alena their Champions League debuts.

Munir El Haddadi played up front while Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Sergio Busquets all dropped to the bench as Valverde opted to rest his regulars ahead of the Spanish champions' LaLiga trip to Levante on Sunday.

But Spurs' plight looked bleak when Ousmane Dembele's sensational individual strike put them on the back foot in the group decider.

Yet Lucas Moura's late leveller ensured the Premier League club would reach the knockout phase for only the third time in their history. They were indebted, however, to PSV Eindhoven, who held Inter to a surprise 1-1 draw at the San Siro.

After sneaking above the Italian Serie A side due to a better head-to-head record, Pochettino declared it was a "massive motivation" with Spurs' new stadium expected to be ready when the last-16 ties take place in February.

NEVER SAY NEVER

I'm so happy, so proud, I remember that after PSV, no one believed in us, it was mission impossible but we are here, we're in the next round.

MAURICIO POCHETTINO, Tottenham manager, on his team's achievement especially after collecting only a point at the halfway mark of three games.

"I'm so happy, so proud, I remember that after PSV, no one believed in us, it was mission impossible but we are here, we're in the next round," he told reporters.

"It's a massive achievement for the club, we're happy for the fans here and around the world, it's a massive boost for the club, to be able to play in the knockout rounds next year in the new stadium."

The Argentinian admitted that he and his players were caught in two minds over whether to try to hold on for the draw or seek a winner after news filtered through about Mauro Icardi's second-half equaliser for Inter.

Hirving Lozano had opened the scoring for Dutch champions PSV.

"It was difficult to manage the last 10 minutes. The players knew the result of Inter, but it is difficult to translate what to do to the field," he said.

"You have to score to win but, if you concede and lose the game, maybe you talk in a different way afterwards."

The manager also felt progression from a group that had opponents of genuine European pedigree ranked among his greatest achievements since taking over Spurs in 2014.

"It was so difficult to manage everything inside, but we made a fantastic effort. To see and celebrate with everyone after four years and a half was great, it was the first time I felt something really special," he added.

"The connection is amazing, but we need to be clever about how we manage that energy tonight."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2018, with the headline 'Mission complete for Tottenham'. Print Edition | Subscribe