Christian Eriksen kept Tottenham Hotspur’s hopes of reaching the round of 16 in the Champions League alive when he came off the bench to score a late winner in his side’s 1-0 victory over Inter Milan at Wembley on Wednesday.
Inter, needing just a draw to reach the knockout rounds at Tottenham’s expense, were holding firm until Eriksen smashed home his side’s winner in the 80th minute after superb work from midfield powerhouse Moussa Sissoko.
The win meant Tottenham and Inter both have seven points in Group B, but Tottenham leapfrogged the Italians into second place by virtue of their head-to-head record.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side will complete an unlikely salvage job if they win against group winners Barcelona at the Nou Camp next month or if they at least match Inter’s result against bottom club PSV Eindhoven.
Eriksen and Son Heung-min, two of the stars of Tottenham’s 3-1 defeat of Chelsea on Saturday, were both left on the bench, and their late introductions proved pivotal.
But it was French midfielder Sissoko, so often a misfit since his £30 million move to London in August 2016, who proved the key to unlocking Inter’s defence.
With the clock ticking down and Tottenham’s plight becoming desperate, he barrelled his way into the area and played the ball across for Dele Alli, who showed great vision to help it on to Eriksen, who fired high past Samir Handanovic.
“We still have have one more game to go. Our focus was to win this and now our next one is Barca,” Eriksen said. “It will be tough but fun, we know what we have to play for.”
The Dane added: “Tonight Inter came to defend. They knew one point would be better than losing, and playing against Italian sides, you don’t have many chances. Luckily, I took mine and we kept them away.”
Some of Tottenham’s best Champions League moments have come against Italian opposition, notably in their debut campaign in 2010-11 when they beat Inter at home and AC Milan away in the San Siro on their way to the quarterfinals.
There have been crushing disappointments, too — none bigger than last season’s 2-1 home defeat by Juventus in the last 16, which deprived them of a place in the last eight.
This season they led 1-0 away to Inter in their opening game in the group only for late goals by Mauro Icardi and Matias Vecino to inflict a defeat which left them playing catch-up ever since.
Harry Kane’s double against PSV Eindhoven earned Tottenham their first win in the group to put their fate just about back in their own hands. But only victory over Inter would do.
Tottenham dominated the first half, with Alli shooting over early on, Lucas Moura having a shot saved after another burst forward by Sissoko and Harry Winks curling a sublime effort against the crossbar.
Inter had chances, too, with substitute Borja Valero wasting their best one shortly after replacing the injured Radja Nainggolan, while Tottenham were perhaps fortunate not to end the half with 10 men after Erik Lamela caught Marcelo Brozovic on the shin with a reckless tackle.
Tottenham struggled to open up Inter after the break and when Jan Vertonghen headed wide from Eriksen’s superb free kick in the 75th minute it seemed Tottenham’s hopes were fading.
But Eriksen popped up to set up what could yet be a memorable night in Barcelona.
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