Friday, 2 December, 2022
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'Fantastic' comeback takes Tottenham into Champions League last 16 as group winners

Tottenham Hotspur assistant manager Cristian Stellini called on his side to take inspiration from their second-half display against Marseille after a come-from-behind 2-1 win in France saw them qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League as group winners on Tuesday.

Spurs needed a point to secure a place in next Monday's draw for the first knockout round and a win to be sure of advancing from Group D in first place, yet they trailed at the interval to a Chancel Mbemba goal at a raucous Velodrome.

However, the Premier League side were transformed after the break as Clement Lenglet headed in a 54th-minute leveller before Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg broke away to score a dramatic 95th-minute winner.

That goal saw Tottenham leapfrog Eintracht Frankfurt -- who won 2-1 away to Sporting Lisbon to qualify too -- into first place and condemned Marseille to bottom spot and elimination from Europe altogether.

It was a turnaround that looked unlikely at half-time, after the Premier League side offered next to nothing in the first period and could have trailed by more than one goal without some excellent goalkeeping from Hugo Lloris.

"It was very difficult in the first half but we didn't lose our minds, we stayed in the match," said Stellini, who was filling in for suspended manager Antonio Conte.

"It was terrible the goal we conceded because they took a corner quickly and we were not prepared.

"This is an important lesson for the future, but in the second half something changed.

"We talked a lot in the dressing room about the energy we needed in the second half. In the first half we never used energy to press and create difficulties, and they controlled the game well, but in the second half this aspect changed and we played a fantastic second half."

The latest comeback win follows on from a 3-2 victory at Bournemouth in the Premier League, when they trailed by two goals and saw Rodrigo Bentancur net the deciding goal in stoppage time.

Stellini put the win down to "fitness, personality and energy" and added: "In this type of stadium and this type of match, it is not easy. The stadium was very hot in the first half, but we need to try to play all 90 minutes on the same level."

- Son forced off injured -

They were without the presence on the touchline of Conte, suspended after being shown a red card at the end of last week's 1-1 draw with Sporting, when a VAR call denied Harry Kane a last-gasp winner.

And the visitors also had to deal with losing Son Heung-min to a head knock in the first half.

"In this moment we don't know," Stellini said when asked if Son had been left concussed after an aerial challenge with Mbemba.

"We have to wait for the medical assessment, but I saw him in the dressing room. We celebrated with Son as well."

That Tottenham had been so flat in the first half could also have been put down to their preparations being disturbed after Marseille fans let off fireworks outside their hotel in the early hours of Tuesday.

However, the atmosphere inside the stadium was a little less boisterous than usual because the whole north end of the Velodrome was shut as a punishment by UEFA following trouble at their earlier group game against Frankfurt.

Igor Tudor's team were also dealt an early blow when their former Manchester United centre-back Eric Bailly came off with a hamstring injury.

Yet they started strongly and Lloris had to make two key saves to deny Alexis Sanchez and then Jordan Veretout in the first half before imposing Congolese defender Mbemba headed them in front in the second added minute at the end of the half.

Spurs offered hardly anything in the first half but reset at half-time and drew level when Lenglet headed in an Ivan Perisic free-kick.

Kane had a goal disallowed for offside before Hojbjerg crashed a shot off the bar 10 minutes from time.

Sead Kolasinac then missed a golden chance for Marseille and Hojbjerg had the last laugh as the hosts pushed forward and left themselves exposed.

"The players didn't hear me. I was telling them to stay back but they couldn't hear me because of the crowd," said Tudor.