Christian Eriksen came off the bench to keep alive Tottenham’s bid to qualify for the Champions League last 16 as the Denmark star’s late strike sealed a tense 1-0 win over Inter Milan on Wednesday.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side were 10 minutes away from being eliminated at the group stage as they laboured to break down the massed Inter defence at Wembley. But Eriksen, surprisingly dropped to the bench by Pochettino, came to Tottenham’s rescue when he fired home to take their Group B qualification bid down to the final game.
After taking one point from their opening three matches, Tottenham had scored twice in the last 12 minutes to avoid an early exit against PSV Eindhoven earlier this month. And this latest act of European escapology means second placed Tottenham are now level on points with third placed Inter.
They head to Barcelona to face the group leaders on December 11 knowing a win will seal their last 16 berth, regardless of how Inter fare against PSV on the same night.
Harry Kane set the tone tonight, barging through the Inter defence to force Samir Handanovic to push his shot onto a post. Then, a muscular run from Kane ended with Dele Alli firing just over from the edge of the area. Moussa Sissoko led another rapid Tottenham raid featuring an exquisite Alli dummy, but Lucas Moura couldn’t finish off the move as he shot straight at Handanovic.
Content to defend deep for long periods, Inter’s safety-first game-plan was almost undone when Harry Winks curled a superb effort against the bar from 25 yards.
Pochettino responded to the mounting sense of desperation by sending on Son for the last half an hour and introduced Eriksen 10 minutes later.
It proved an inspired move as Eriksen turned the game in Tottenham’s favour. Eriksen’s first touch nearly brought the crucial goal when his free-kick was headed wide in a woeful miss by Jan Vertonghen.
Eriksen ensured Vertonghen wouldn’t live to rue his miss as the Denmark playmaker broke the deadlock in the 80th minute.
At last unlocking the stubborn Inter defence, a sweeping move featured Sissoko and Alli exchanging passes before Eriksen was teed up for a cool finish from 10 yards out.
Pochettino’s relief was clear as he looked to the heavens and pumped his fists, but Tottenham still have one last daunting hurdle to overcome in Barcelona before they can celebrate a last 16 berth.
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)