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Spurs v A.C. Milan, 09.03.11

ROUND OF 16 (2nd leg)
(Spurs win 1-0 on aggregate)

Attendance:- 34,320

Referee:- Mr. F. De Bleeckere
Assistants:- Mr. P. Hermans & Mr. W. Vromans
Fourth Official:- Mr. L. Wouters
Additional assistants:- Mr. P. Vervecken & Mr. Jean-Baptiste Bultynck
(All officials from Belgium)

Spurs (4-4-1-1):- Gomes; Corluka, Gallas, Dawson (Capt.), Ekotto; Lennon, Sandro, Modric, Pienaar (sub Jenas, 70); Van der Vaart (sub Bale, 66); Crouch (sub Pavlyuchenko, 82)

Subs not used:- Cudicini; Hutton, King; Defoe

No bookings

AC Milan (4-3-1-2):- Abbiati; Abate, Nesta, Thiago Silva, Jankulovski (sub Antonini, 70); Flamini (sub Rodney, 87), Seedorf (Capt.), Boateng (sub Merkel, 76); Robinho; Pato, Ibrahimovic

Subs not used:- Amelia; Papastathopoulos, Oddo, Yepes

Booked:- Jankulovski (foul on Lennon), Flamini (foul on Ekotto), Pato (Dissent)

Sandro and Gallas supreme as Harry makes history!

It was a glory night for Spurs, although not in the manner that some people hoped and perhaps even expected. The team that has leaked goals galore in two recent Premier League games against moderate opponents kept another clean sheet against the clear leaders of Serie A, and came through a captivating match with flying colours. Harry Redknapp has become the first English manager to take an English side through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Spurs have achieved that last night as a result of supreme performances by Sandro and Gallas – two of Harry’s most recent signings – but of course it was a team performance.

Those who hoped for a few goals and a home win were not to be rewarded fully, but Harry set his stall out with a somewhat cautious approach, holding back Gareth Bale until the latter stages of the game. Even when he was introduced, Bale was kept on a fairly tight leash to enhance the disciplined approach to keeping the Milanese at bay, and to preserve the precious one goal lead obtained three weeks ago in the San Siro. That Modric pass, Lennon run and Crouch goal became the decisive goal of the tie, and became so much more special as a result.

There is a young Brazilian in the Spurs midfield who looks like becoming a fixture. His name is Sandro, and his performance last night was a joy to behold. Those bright orange boots of his were to the fore so often as he halted Milan in their tracks, and they were seen helping the attack too in the second half, as he became a creator, as well as defender. Sandro is a cool customer, maturing as a player by the game. William Gallas was a star in defence, with one particular highlight of covering a rash Gomes move to the edge of his area, beaten by Pato, leading to a shot by Robinho, cleared with confidence by Gallas off the goal-line. Thanks for coming to Tottenham, William. You’ve been excellent and you continue to inspire those around you. Others let you go too early. I hope we keep you for at least another year!

The Spurs formation was predictable really, with Van der Vaart behind Crouch, but instead of two wing men, we had Pienaar on the left. Pienaar too has been a great recent acquisition. He’s the type of player whose good work often goes un-noticed by those looking for the more obvious and spectacular contributions, but the South African has plenty of skill to bring to the plate, and not a little effort. We were buoyed by the knowledge that Ledley King was on the bench, and despite our injuries, players such as Bassong, Palacios and Kranjcar could not even make the bench. One by one, those options are returning for Harry, who will need them in some busy times to come, with a minimum of 8 matches now scheduled for April.

Milan included the veteran midfielder Clarence Seedorf, whose performance in the San Siro had seen him substituted at half-time. Last night, the Dutchman captained his side and led them from the midfield with an excellent performance. He had hate-man Flamini and former Spur Kevin-Prince Boateng beside him, with Robinho behind Pato and Ibrahimovic, indicating Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri’s clear intention to take the game to the hosts in an effort to get on even terms and to win the tie. Who can say that Harry’s caution, and his tactics were not well judged? The result says it all, doesn’t it?

Spurs started on the front foot and Pienaar gave Van der Vaart an early chance with a great ball from his territory on the left. Rafa poked his shot well wide though. Milan won a corner within a minute after an Ibrahimovic shot was deflected, and after the corner, Robinho hit a shot from a deep position that also passed wide. Modric sent Lennon away and his cross was met by a Crouch header, but also by the hands of goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. Pato was proving a danger with great mobility up front, and his partner Ibrahimovic was coming deep at times. Spurs managed to clear a dangerous ball across the goal area, and then full back Jankulovski went sole from his own half until that man Sandro swiped the ball off his feet. Ibrahimovic took a free kick from the left and forced a save from Gomes, who pushed the ball around for a corner.

More excellent interception work by Sandro led to a Spurs counter-attack, as Pienaar chipped the ball to Crouch, but Peter’s direction was not good. Van der Vaart then had a shot deflected for a corner after Corluka’s cross. The crucial Gallas clearance came after 25 minutes in front of the Paxton Road stand, as Gomes was drawn to Pato on the left side of the area. Pato cross and Robinho fired, but Gallas had run back to cover the goal, and made that all-important clearance with great style, and with comfort. Perhaps the closest Spurs got to goal was after Modric was fouled on the half-hour and Van der Vaart’s free kick went just over the right corner of the goal, disturbing the roof of the net but from the wrong side.

Ibrahimovic slipped a ball to Pato, and the Brazilian striker hit a rasping shot which Gomes could only parry. The Spurs defence was at hand to clear the ball. Crouch gave Van der Vaart a shot on goal, but the ball was collected with ease by the keeper.

Spurs upped the tempo at the start of the second half, and Lennon was to the fore with several runs down his right flank. Sandro got forward to feed Lennon for a cross deep to Crouch, who could only head the ball back across the area with no threat to the goal. Jankulovski took an early booking for halting a Lennon run unfairly just inside the Milan half. After 52 minutes, Sandro got forward again to good effect. He passed to Lennon and his cross was headed back by Crouch for Pienaar. However, Crouch was adjudged to have impeded the defender. Soon after that Flamini saw yellow for a foul on Ekotto. The game was so captivating that the crowd did not have too much time to give Flamini the level of abuse that perhaps he expected. He got some though!

Spurs survived a goal-mouth scramble after a poor Gomes throw came straight back into the box. A goal kick was the final decision here. We entered the last 25 minutes, and Bale replaced Van der Vaart. At this point, Crouch became more lonely, as Spurs formed a 5 man midfield and were prepared to face up for a war of attrition. Milan kept coming forward in waves, but Spurs were happy to deploy their effective defensive shield, which led to few direct threats upon the Spurs goal, despite the concession of possession to the Italians, who were becoming more and more desperate. Pienaar had been offering some support to Crouch, but then Jenas was added to the mix, and ultimately Pavlyuchenko replaced Crouch.

Jenas and Bale gave Spurs the legs to break down the left flank on occasions, but the focus was on defence and restricted the visitors to a 76th minute shot by Pato into the side netting that excited the away fans, and in added time a shot by Robinho that was blocked by Gallas.

Spurs had earnt their progress to the quarter finals with a fine professional performance, full of effort and skill in all areas. Their victims on this historic run have included both Milan teams. Teams which have great European pedigree. Teams which are the reigning European and World Champions (Inter), and the current Serie A leaders (A.C. Milan). We now look forward to next Friday’s draw, as a team which deserves to be at the top table of football, and that needs to fear none of its opponents.


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