08. December 2022

Tottenham survive in Marseille to reach Champions League last 16

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Tottenham Hotspur survived a real scare in Marseille before fighting back to win 2-1 at the Stade Velodrome on Tuesday and clinch a place in the Champions League last 16 as group winners at the French side’s expense.

Spurs, with coach Antonio Conte banned from the touchline, were dominated in the first half and deservedly went behind in stoppage-time to a Chancel Mbemba header.

But despite losing Son Heung-Min to an early head injury, the visitors turned things around at the start of the second half and equalized through Clement Lenglet in the 54th minute.

As they held on for a point that would have been enough to progress, Pierre-Emile Hojberg struck with the last kick of the game to confirm Tottenham’s place in the knockout stage.

After starting the day on top and then being out of the top two at half-time, Tottenham progress as Group D winners ahead of Frankfurt, who upset Sporting in the other game in the group. Hojberg’s late goal means Marseille also miss out on a place in the Europa League as they finish bottom, behind Sporting.

“To be honest, we expected that type of game. The Stade Velodrome is a very difficult place to deal with and I think we showed great personality,” Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris said.

“It was a tough night, a great battle and even more psychological battle because we could feel in the first half a team was playing without the fear to lose, it was Marseille, and in the second half we face a team with the fear to lose.”

Roared on by an incredible atmosphere inside a rocking Stade Velodrome, Marseille had begun the night by putting Tottenham firmly on the back foot.

Former Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez went close with a couple of early chances, one of them saved by Lloris. The France international was called into action even more dramatically just past the half-hour mark when saving at full stretch from a powerful drive by Jordan Veretout.

By that point, Tottenham had already suffered another blow when forward Son was forced off after taking a blow to the face in an aerial collision that left the South Korea star groggy and unable to play on less than three weeks before the start of the World Cup.

Speaking afterward, Spurs assistant head coach Cristian Stellini said thy were still unsure if Son had suffered a concussion though he did have a swollen eye.

Marseille’s pressure and the noise from the crowd only grew as the half neared its conclusion with Tottenham pinned back on the edge of their own box and desperately clinging on for the half-time whistle.

In seven minutes of stoppage time caused by Son’s injury, Marseille’s goal finally arrived. Spurs’ defending left much to be desired as Mbemba rose unmarked at the back post to head Veretout’s corner down and into the net with authority.

Yet despite failing to mount any attacking threat in the first 45 minutes, Tottenham, now needing a goal to stay in the Champions League, immediately came out for the start of the second half with more attacking intent.

And within 10 minutes they were level. This time it was Spurs capitalizing on a set-piece, with Lenglet rising highest in the center of a crowded penalty area to head in Ivan Perisic’s precise free-kick.

Tottenham were soon almost in front. Marseille goalkeeper Pau Lopez could only parry out a dangerous low cross from half-time substitute Emerson Royal straight to Harry Kane, but the usually deadly striker failed to adjust his feet to get off a shot.

That was far from the end of the drama. With nine minutes remaining Hojberg smashed a shot against the crossbar for Spurs before former Arsenal defender Sead Kolasinac missed a glorious chance to crush Spurs’ hopes when somehow heading wide of the post from right in front of goal.

Hojberg’s late goal on the break then rubbed salt into the Marseille wounds, with the home players admitting afterward that they didn’t realize a draw would have been enough to claim a place in the Europa League.

“On the pitch, we didn’t know. But on the bench, people knew. It’s a lack of communication. We were desperate to keep pushing to the end. It’s our mistake,” Mbemba said.

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