Spurs 'mentally fragile'

Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain grabbing the ball for a quick restart after scoring the equaliser against Tottenham, his third goal of the tie, to drag the Italian champions back into the game. Paulo Dybala's winner just three minutes later was enou
Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain grabbing the ball for a quick restart after scoring the equaliser against Tottenham, his third goal of the tie, to drag the Italian champions back into the game. Paulo Dybala's winner just three minutes later was enough to knock the English side out.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Defender Chiellini lays into Tottenham after Juventus make experience count to progress

LONDON • Giorgio Chiellini rubbed salt into Tottenham's wounds, claiming the English team "always miss something to arrive at the end" following Juventus' 2-1 smash-and-grab victory in the second leg of the Champions League last 16.

Son Heung Min's first-half effort had put Tottenham in control at Wembley after they had drawn 2-2 in the first leg in Turin last month and there was little sign of a Juve response until Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala struck in three second-half minutes to send the Italian giants through to the quarter-finals 4-3 on aggregate on Wednesday.

Chiellini, who has six Serie A titles with Juventus and 96 caps for the Azzurri, spoke of the "history of Tottenham" as being one of near misses.

The centre-back told ITV Sport: "We knew Spurs were weak in defence and were mentally fragile. They always miss something to arrive at the end.

"We believe until the end. We earned our luck. Tottenham had their chances and are a fine team but they're on the verge of being able to win this type of game.

"Sometimes, you need that spark, maybe a trophy win. We had our experience and we made the most of it."

WE WERE UNLUCKY

We competed well against a very good team like Juve, we dominated. In the two games we were better but, at this level, in three minutes, the tie was Juventus'.

MAURICIO POCHETTINO, Tottenham Hotspur manager, refusing to admit his side were inferior to Juventus.

The Italian's stinging words would have offered more ammunition to critics who say Spurs, for all their worthy progress under coach Mauricio Pochettino since his arrival in 2014, fall just short when the stakes are highest.

Tottenham's last trophy was the 2008 League Cup.

Despite being completely outplayed in the opening period, Juventus got back in the game after the break and equalised through Higuain in the 64th minute.

That was the decisive moment as Tottenham went to pieces, allowing the Italian champions to score again three minutes later as Dybala punished poor defending with a cool finish.

Spurs, harnessing all their youthful energy and dynamism, huffed and puffed, but could not break down the Italian wall despite Harry Kane coming agonisingly close in the dying seconds, with his header smacking against the post before being hacked off the line.

Pundits wasted no time sticking the boot into Spurs. Former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane said they "found a way to lose" and lacked the killer instinct while former Spurs midfielder Jamie Redknapp suggested in his Daily Mail column that Spurs are in danger of becoming "nearly men".

Pochettino refused to blame the exit on a lack of experience, saying: "We competed well against a very good team like Juve, we dominated. In the two games we were better but, at this level, in three minutes, the tie was Juventus'."

Spurs' scorer Son, in tears after the final whistle, said: "That hurt, but it's football... this is sad news. The dressing room was a bit quiet."

With their 17-match unbeaten run coming to an end, Tottenham can still end the season on a high despite failing to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the second time.

They face Swansea in the FA Cup quarter-finals and winning that trophy for the first time since 1991, together with a third consecutive top-four finish, would be the perfect riposte to their critics.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2018, with the headline 'Spurs 'mentally fragile''. Print Edition | Subscribe