Tottenham fans bask in afterglow of a defiantly un-’Spursy’ denouement | Sid Lowe

Tottenham’s support had to contemplate failure in Barcelona until Lucas Moura suddenly turned the evening on its head

Tottenham’s fans had just been asked to stay in their seats after the final whistle when Érik Lamela collected the ball on the left and saw Harry Kane move ahead.

It was more than an hour since Ousmane Dembélé had scored the opening goal at the Camp Nou and 15 minutes since the news had come in from Milan, where their fate was also being decided and where Mauro Icardi had scored. There were six minutes to go now, Internazionale were level against PSV Eindhoven, and Spurs were out. High in the east stand, a long wait lay ahead, 6,000 of them, sitting there behind the glass, contemplating failure in the cold.

Below them, though, Kane’s ball bent across the area and Lucas Moura, on as a substitute, finally steered a shot past Jasper Cillessen. They erupted; there was still no certainty and there would not be for a while yet, but Spurs were close now. From the bench, Toni Jiménez approached the touchline and signalled to the players, holding up a finger from each hand: 1-1 in Milan, 1-1 in Barcelona, and they were through. Well, for now. There was hope, which they say is what kills you – and often Spurs in particular – but not this time.

The fans were still celebrating when the announcement was repeated a moment later: please stay in your seats after the game. The prospect didn’t seem so bad now, the chance for a sing-song, to take in what they had achieved, to speculate about what comes next – time to plan a celebration in the city. They would stay on their feet, where they had been all game, making lots of noise. The Champions League would, hopefully, come to White Hart Lane because Spurs had come to the Camp Nou and taken a point.

Better still, and for all that Barcelona had left out seven likely starters, they deserved it. Moura’s shot was their 15th. The chances had accumulated and become increasing clear, too. And for all that Pochettino had not been able to suppress a smile when he heard the lineup pre-match, there was merit in this.

Danny Rose hugs the post in despair after blazing a golden chance over the Barcelona bar.
Danny Rose hugs the post in despair after blazing a golden chance over the Barcelona bar. But Spurs would not be denied. Photograph: TGSPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

Barcelona had begun without Luis Suárez, Jordi Alba, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal and Marc-André ter Stegen. Above all there was no Lionel Messi. But Ousmane Dembélé was there, scorer of an extraordinary opening goal that began with a run inside his own area and ended in the other, Kyle Walker-Peters left trailing and Harry Winks flying past like a cartoon character off a cliff. They hadn’t lasted 10 minutes before falling behind and now, with less than 10 minutes left, Messi was on, welcomed by a huge roar.

Busquets was on too. And Cillessen was proving a more than able deputy for ter Stegen. The Dutchman, who was playing just his fifth game in three years at Barcelona, had saved superbly from Eriksen at the near post. He had stopped Lucas too, somehow turning the ball away, right on the line, his body falling beyond it. The finishing wasn’t always good, but the finish was.

Fortune appeared not to favour Spurs, but there was no fatalism. If this was shaping up to be so very “Spursy” – that old myth – they did not relent. Still they came. Lucas found the net and the players knew the score, but they also knew that they had six minutes, and more, to hold on. Or even to score the winner, which they might have done when Lamela and Kane played in Danny Rose, only for his shot to fly well over.

Minds were inevitably drawn to Milan, Pochettino admitting that it was hard to know how to manage the final minutes, and when the whistle went, there were embraces but not much ecstasy, the excitement contained, waiting to be released. They did not yet know if they could celebrate. Suddenly from on high there was a huge roar, an indication, handed down by the fans, that it was over in Italy – premature, it appeared, but not ultimately misplaced. Spurs had gathered just once point after three games. Now they were through. So much for “Spursy”.

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This was huge. They had suffered, there had been tension too, right to the end, but they had completed what Pochettino said many had written off as “mission impossible”, and not without reason. It was a mission the club needed to complete, all the more so in a season when their new stadium could end up costing them close to £1bn. That fact was not lost on anyone, and this reinforced the belief that they belong here, as Eriksen insisted.

Pochettino said the reaction in the dressing room was a special feeling he had never experienced before, and he was back out just after 11.15pm, clapping the fans sitting there in an otherwise empty arena. They were still in the stadium almost an hour after the final whistle, but they didn’t care: this had become a moment to be enjoyed and savoured.


Sid Lowe at Camp Nou

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