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A.C. Milan v Spurs, 15.02.11

ROUND OF 16 (1st Leg)

Crouch, 80

Attendance:- 80,000

Referee:- Mr. Stephane Lannoy
Assistant referees:- Mr. E. Dansault & Mr. L. Ugo
Fourth official:- Mr. C. Turpin
Additional assistants:- Mr. A. Gautier & Mr. R. Buquet
(All officials from France)

Milan (4-1-3-2):- Abbiati (sub Amelia (18); Abate, Nesta, Yepes, Antonini; Thiago; Gattuso (Capt.), Seedorf (sub Pato, 46), Flamini; Robinho, Ibrahimovic

Subs not used:- Papastathopoulos, Oddo, Jankulovski, Legrottaglie; Merkel

Booked:- Flamini (two footed tackle on Corluka), Yepes (foul on Gomes), Gattuso (foul on Pienaar – not for pushing Joe Jordan during the match; not for constantly pushing Peter Crouch, or a slap across his face; and finally not for head-butting Joe Jordan at the end of the match. Oh and not for the dissent when he DID get booked. Never mind, his booking prohibits him from the second leg on 9th March)

Spurs (4-4-1-1):- Gomes; Corluka (sub Woodgate, 59), Gallas, Dawson (Capt.), Ekotto; Lennon, Sandro, Palacios, Pienaar (sub Kranjcar, 76); Van der Vaart (sub Modric, 62); Crouch

Subs not used:- Cudicini; Bassong; Pavlyuchenko, Defoe

No bookings

One of the greatest Tottenham nights ever!

I’ve got home this afternoon and watched the recording of last night’s momentous game in the San Siro Stadium, Milan. I watched certain moments with a tear in my eye. There was the goal of course. There were the heroics of the 14 men who were lucky enough to wear the Lilywhite shirt of Tottenham Hotspur on the pitch. There was the trembling emotion of manager Harry Redknapp, when joining the Sky panel immediately after the game. There was his quote about the players – “You need character – you need real men”. Well all 14 of those players demonstrated character, determination, skill, courage and pride, to name but five attributes that every man jack displayed. Truly this will go down as one of the great nights in the history of our club, and I feel proud to have been up in “The Gods” of the San Siro to witness the event. The players, staff and fans will one day tell their grandchildren of the night they witnessed “The Heroes of Tottenham”.

Having been to the San Siro in October for the Inter game, I have to say that when AC Milan are “in the house” the atmosphere is much, much hotter – like a cauldron. The home support fills all three tiers of the ultra high stadium, and before kick-off displays massive banners, with flags and firecrackers to go with them. In the second half, that crowd lifted its team and raised the pressure against Tottenham more than any other occasion I can recall in an away venue. It is another feather in the cap of the Spurs team that they came through this ordeal with great, great honour.

And yet, it wasn’t an ordeal as such, because the team we love with the very core of our bodies took the game to their Serie A-leading opponents with so much style and gusto that the first half was clearly theirs. Statistics supported that too, in terms of shots on target.

Harry Redknapp used the resources at his disposal to perfection. Rafael van der Vaart returned and gave his all for 62 minutes, before little Luka Modric (two weeks after an appendix operation) returned to provide his intricate command of the pitch. Indeed, after Sandro intercepted an attack (not for the first time), it was Modric who won a mini-battle to send Lennon away on the winning run that led to Peter Crouch’s seventh Champions League goal. I’d like to meet again the Spurs fan I met before the game when he overheard my team news, and made disparaging remarks about Sandro. If this 21 year old Brazilian prodigy didn’t come of age last Saturday in the Stadium of Light, where he played an impactive game, then he certainly came out of the San Siro with flying colours last night. Not to pick out one player, because Palacios was just as responsible for persistently stopping attacks, and supporting the back four supremely.

Milan might not be the team they have been, but they are clear at the top of Serie A, and just how many Serie A leading sides do you want Spurs to beat before accepting them as a genuine Champions League side? (Inter were top of their league earlier in this season, and are of course reigning Champions). Perhaps surprisingly, AC Milan’s manager Massimiliano Allegri chose to play 34 year old Clarence Seedorf in midfield, instead of playing Alexandre Pato in the first half. This decision assisted Spurs, who played with so much control in the first half, creating numerous chance. We knew that the likes of Robinho and Ibrahimovic would be a threat to Spurs, and when Robinho fell back to the midfield for the second half, behind Ibrahimovic and Pato, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this Brazilian work so hard.

Van der Vaart was at the heart of so much that Spurs offered in the way of attack while he was on the pitch, and an early shot by Lennon was apparently handled in the area by Nesta. Spurs appeals were ignored by the referee, who overall tried to keep the game flowing, but was too lenient, particularly with regard to Gattuso’s histrionics, and Flamini’s outrageous tackle on Vedran Corluka, about which you will have all read assiduously. While he was fit, Corluka was getting forward in support of Lennon often, and his deep cross after 4 minutes might have been converted by Crouch, who controlled the ball, but shot without enough strength. Lennon with a great run and his partner Corluka offered another cross for Crouch but Yepes made a vital clearance.

Crouch stooped to head another Lennon cross and there was another ignored appeal for a possible handball by a defender. The Lennon – Corluka combination led to Crouch heading down and taking a full blooded shot that was deflected then held by the keeper, who got injured in a fair challenge and had to be replaced by Amelia. Ibrahimovic was offering some threat to Tottenham’s defence, and got the ball to the bye line down the left, hitting a low cross/shot that Gallas intercepted superbly. Ibrahimovic tried to win a free kick or a penalty when going down on the very edge of the box, but the referee waved away his appeals and urged the player to get to his feet. Van der Vaart had an excellent shot tipped over the bar by Amelia after 41 minutes.

With Milan playing towards their fans who urged them on loudly, that pressure built up at the start of the second half. It didn’t often translate to direct shots on goal, but when called upon, Heurelho Gomes produced some heroics. But first there was time for Van der Vaart to produce a shrewd and delicate chip shot that just passed the wrong side of the post. Gomes’ first save of note was perhaps his best when stretching backwards to reach Yepes powerful header to push the ball above and over the bar.

Van der Vaart had a free kick opportunity after 53 minutes, when Crouch was fouled, but the kick went straight into the arms of the keeper. Flamini got that booking for his flying tackle on Corluka, who was obviously seriously hurt near the touch-line. Milan players showed no sympathy and wanted Corluka rolled off the pitch. The referee seemed to support this idea, but eventually, after a delay, Corluka was stretchered off, to be seen later on crutches wearing a blood-stained ice-pack. The post-match information on Corluka is that his injury is not as serious as first thought, and he could be back in action at Blackpool! Harry Redknapp, his team and the army of over 5,000 Spurs fans were then frustrated at the length of time and number of breaks in play that the referee allowed before Jonathan Woodgate made his entrance, welcomed with great applause, as we haven’t seen him action since the 9-1 against Wigan in November 2009. Woodgate operated with all the guile his experience can offer, and like the rest of the back four he was a “real man”. William Gallas moved to the right back position to accommodate Woodgate’s arrival.

Gomes made his second crucial save, again from a Yepes header, after 59 minutes. This one was a reaction save low down, where great positioning paid off. Modric replaced Van der Vaart, and Gattuso went absolutely mad after getting a booking for a foul on Steven Pienaar. This incident occurred in front of the technical area and may have been a part of the ongoing banter that Joe Jordan was allegedly aiming at Gattuso “in Scottish” throughout the second half.

By now, Spurs had survived the earlier pressure offered by the Milan team and crowd, and by playing such solid defence, had quietened down the crowd and neutralised the opposition. To take a draw back to White Hart Lane would have been great, but the “Heroes of Tottenham” gave us so much more in the 80th minute. Sandro broke up yet another attack, and offered the ball in the direction of Modric, who was being sandwiched by two Milanese. Under great pressure, Modric managed to slip the ball forward diagonally, seeing the run of Aaron Lennon who then made a bee line with the ball out of his own half and down the right channel, leaping over Yepes’ attempted tackle, before squaring the ball to Crouch, who was perfectly placed to fire home just inside the post to the right of the goalkeeper. The celebrations by the players and the crowd were long and emotional. It was a great goal, and with so little time left could be the winner.

The greatest pressure that Spurs had to suffer was in the closing minute of added time, when Dawson was clearing shots one after the other. Ibrahimovic did get the ball in the net after a corner, but this was correctly disallowed, firstly for a push on Dawson and also for being offside anyway! This event no doubt added to the frustration of the home players and led to those post match histrionics by Gattuso, who will no doubt get punished severely for his violence towards Joe Jordan.

Words alone cannot convey the joy felt by those privileged to have been in the ground for this game. It’s another night that we’ll always remember, and remember this – Harry Redknapp has now given us quite a few memorable wins in his tenure as Tottenham manager.

After we went ahead the Spurs fans sang “Wait till you meet Gareth Bale”! The morning papers made reference to the absence of “Il terrible” (their nickname for Bale), but they also had a picture of a glum-faced Silvio Berlusconi. Whether this was because his team had lost at home and may be on their way out of this year’s Champions’ League, or because he now has to face a charge of under-age sex with a Moroccan prostitute, I don’t know!

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