Character key to Spurs’ improvement in Europe
TURIN, Italy (AP) — There’s an increasingly popular word in the Tottenham camp these days.
Tottenham staged a remarkable recovery Tuesday in the Champions League after conceding two goals inside the opening nine minutes at Juventus before drawing the first leg of their last-16 match 2-2. Ahead of the game, Juventus had conceded once in its previous 16 matches.
Mauricio Pochettino’s young team has drawn many admirers with its passion and skill, and the Argentine coach believes the final piece of the puzzle has dropped into place for Spurs.
“We showed we are mature enough to compete in the Champions League,” said Pochettino. “We showed great character. The good thing, this is our fourth season and we are always improving in different aspects. This aspect was the last but it was necessary to try to be competitive and fight for big things.”
England international Dele Alli was at the heart of Spurs’ comeback, threading the ball through to Harry Kane for the visitors’ first goal in another influential performance from the 21-year-old midfielder.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in our team but when you start that poorly you make it difficult for yourself,” Alli said. “We’ve got a great dressing room, the boys believe in each other and in themselves and in the team and in the way we play.”
Alli said Juventus’ impressive record was on players’ minds but their true character had shone through.
“We knew about their record going into the game, you know they haven’t conceded many goals so going 2-0 down early sometimes you can hide for the rest of the game and sit back but I think we took the game to them, we dominated from after the first 10 minutes and I think it shows a lot of character to come to this place and score two goals.”
The Juventus match was the latest in a string of Champions League results which have made the rest of Europe sit up and take note of Spurs — and Pochettino.
Tottenham beat defending champion Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund to top its group, in stark contrast to last season when Spurs failed to reach the knockout stages.
“Yeah definitely,” said Alli when asked if the match would have finished differently last season. “We did say last season we wanted to learn from it because it was a disappointing campaign for us. I think we’ve showed that we have.”
The result — and the two away goals — leaves Spurs as favorites to finish the job when the two teams meet in the second leg at Wembley on March 7.
If Tottenham does advance to the quarterfinals, Christian Eriksen sees nothing to fear from anyone.
“We don’t care where we are, what time it is, which stadium it is, which team we’re playing,” said Eriksen, who scored the equalizing free kick at Juventus. “We showed character to come back and we’re not going to lie down whoever we play.”