So near and yet so far.
For 78 minutes it felt like this tie was already over as a contest, a feeling strengthened by Garay’s 34th minute goal. This didn’t make a lot of difference to Spurs’ task – they still needed three – but psychologically it seemed to have ended any hopes of a revival.
For the second week running, the Portuguese side showed their prowess in the air, as Ezequiel Garay beat a static defence to the ball, heading emphatically into the Spurs net. That was how it stayed until a late flurry almost sparked another Europa League comeback.
Trailing 3-1 from the home leg, where Tottenham had been comprehensively outplayed, it had always looked a tall order. With so many injuries to key players – Adebayor chief amongst them – it became a near impossibility. Sherwood was forced to pick a makeshift team, nowhere more so than in central defence. With all four recognised centre backs out, a 21 year old left back lacking in first team experience (Zeki Fryers) and a holding midfield player (Sandro) were drafted in. Betfair priced our chances of qualification at around 25 to 1.
Tim Sherwood wore a suit and took a seat in the stands for the game. Presumably he didn’t trust himself anywhere near Benfica coach Jorge Jesus or his Gilet after recent high profile bust ups with both.
This was the game Chadli finally showed his worth, hopefully he can kick on from here. All of the players bought in our summer transfer spree have talent. They demonstrated that before they arrived. It’s just a question of settling in and finding their strengths and how to utilise them. Bentaleb also had a promising game. He has a lot of potential but is still a raw talent. One habit he will have to lose is that of giving the ball away in dangerous positions.
For the first 70 minutes, Spurs huffed and puffed but did not really look like scoring. Time was running out and it was the moment for a last throw of the dice. First Kane replaced Soldado, who had had another frustrating night in front of goal. To be fair to him, the service had not been great.
Next Eriksen replaced Townsend who, as so often, looked bright but with little in the way of end product. One particular passage of play saw him turn inside and try an ambitious shot when others were better placed. Then when given the ball from the resulting corner, he over-elaborated and failed to even get in a cross.
It seemed crazy but Eriksen started the game on the bench. Maybe his back injury was causing him discomfort again. With Tottenham needing goals, I was screaming for his introduction from the start, but this time it wasn’t the Dane who made the breakthrough. Instead it was Chadli, often derided since his arrival in the summer, who finally provided it. The Belgian received the ball from Kane and set off purposefully towards the opposition penalty area. He turned inside onto his right foot and drove the ball from distance into the bottom corner of the Benfica goal.
After waiting 78 minutes for a goal, the second came within two minutes of the restart. Lennon crossed from the right, Kane headed back towards goal, and Chadli scooped the ball into the roof of the net. If only his finishing had been so accomplished on Sunday.
After 79 minutes of boredom the tie had finally come alive. Spurs now only needed one more goal to force extra time. Benfica were rattled and could easily have conceded another. First Lennon pulled a dangerous ball into the penalty area but no Spurs player was on hand to apply the finish. Then Harry Kane had a penalty claim turned down as he got in front of Sulejmani who bundled him over.
As time ran out, Sigurdsson and Kane had chances to head an equaliser but Spurs fell for the sucker punch as Sandro felled Lima in the box. The Brazilian striker got up to send Friedel the wrong way and send Benfica into the quarter finals.
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