Tottenham Hotspur supporters may well have trembled when they saw Milan’s three-pronged attack of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexandre Pato and Robinho but the threat was superbly muted by the home side as they progressed in the Champions League. Spurs dug deep at the back, repelling the Italian giants and as captain Michael Dawson put it: “winning
Tottenham’s determination to progress was demonstrated by Aaron Lennon early on, who tirelessly chased the ball being passed by Milan’s defence from one flank to the other. His refusal to give up was reflected among his teammates, particularly Dawson at the heart of the home defence and William Gallas, who made the most crucial touch of the match, clearing off the line when Benoit Assou-Ekotto nearly deflected Robinho’s shot over the line. Dawson and Gallas subdued the towering Ibrahimovic, who could not draw the fouls from defenders as he usually does, such was the disciplined defending from Tottenham.
They were helped out by the superb Sandro, who improves with every game he plays. He made the complex role of breaking play in front of his defence and restarting attack seem simple. What the Brazilian lacks in creativity is made up for in his work rate and defensive abilities.
Yet Milan did not go down without a fight. They forced Heurelho Gomes into some great saves, particularly a stinging free kick from Ibrahimovic. The Italians dominated possession throughout the game, enjoying 63% of the ball but could not break down the Spurs defence. Clarence Seedorf may be 34 but he was Milan’s outstanding player. Constantly receiving the ball in the middle of the park, his displays of creativity were that of a player who has played for the likes of Inter and Real Madrid. The Dutchman would surely have been frustrated that the receivers of his ingenuity were unable to convert chances to goals.
Harry Redknapp noted the threat of Seedorf and with 20 minutes remaining, introduced Jermaine Jenas, whose presence in the packed Tottenham midfield muted Seedorf’s threat. Redknapp’s other substitution came with far more fanfare. Gareth Bale returned from injury, replacing the disappointing Van der Vaart, giving Tottenham extra pace to try and wrap up the tie on the counter-attack. In reality, Bale did not produce much but on a day when Fabio Capello labelled him as the best in the world, his sheer presence forced the Italian defence to be aware while searching that elusive goal.
So many times this year, from the qualifying stages to their clashes against Inter, Tottenham have entertained with a flurry of goals at both ends. Last night was different, but as Peter Crouch commented post-match: “you have to dig in and you have to get results.” Dig in they did and while going against their principle of attacking, they have made Spurs history and eagerly await the quarter-final draw, regardless of the outcome as the dream continues.