Gianluigi Buffon pretty much had Giorgio Chiellini in a headlock. The Italian keeper and defender have been in these situations plenty of times before. But even Buffon recognised his team-mate was delivering one of the great performances.
He clutched Chiellini’s shoulders and screamed praise at him. The moment merited it. Not just for the block but the sheer reading of the game. It came on 78 minutes, as Tottenham launched their most-effective period to retrieve the game.
The pass from Christian Eriksen to Heung-Min Son was exquisite. The delivery from Son into the box was its equal. And Harry Kane was lurking, close range, ready to take this tie into extra time.
Gianluigi Buffon grabbed Giorgio Chiellini by the shoulders and screamed praise at him
The Italian goalkeeper recognised his team-mate was delivering a remarkable performance
To be honest, most neutrals were willing him to do so, so compelling was this game, two good sides going toe-to-toe over 180 minutes. But Chiellini saw it, diving in, blocking and clearing in one motion.
Of course, there was some other traditional arts, more from the Claudio Gentile school. The foul on Dele Alli which brought the yellow card on 54 minutes was one those challenges which looked more like a mugging than a tackle. Even in rugby league, you would have winced.
But at that stage, Juventus were seemingly out of it. They never are, of course, because of the experience, character and skill which gets you through these kind of games.
Like Barzagli’s hook off the line in the last minute when Erik Lamela was lurking. It really shouldn’t have been possible and yet somehow Juventus contrived to hold the fort.
All the old fashioned defensive qualities of Chiellini came to the fore at Wembley
A first-half in which it seemed Max Allegri had been tactically exposed, saw a second half in which Juventus demonstrated just why they reach finals at this level. And Buffon, Barzagli and Chiellini are a big reason why.
Tottenham don’t have that yet. The big moments – and this was another – keep eluding them. Be it that League Cup final against Chelsea or 2015 or that Chelsea game in the title meltdown in 2016 or that FA semi final last season against … well, you know who. Until they get over that hump in the road the questions will remain.
If they can keep the side together, you feel that they will. Right now it seems like despair. But Juventus celebrated wildly, partly because it’s Wembley and a big night. But partly because they knew the scale of what they had achieved.
For the first half, Tottenham looked to make good the claim that Mauricio Pochettino had made for them prior to this match, that Europe is taking notice. At 1-0, it felt like a coming of age moment not just for this team but the club.
Andrea Barzagli cleared the ball off the line as somehow Juventus survived
They couldn’t make the leap. Some will be tempted to say they never will and certainly, if the FA Cup isn’t now won, some of these players and their agents will be veering to that conclusion.
But at times Tottenham can look like the coming side in Europe. As long as the manager still believes that, they should narrow that gap incrementally.
Certainly there is a huge difference between a performance like this and the meek surrenders of Arsenal in the last 16 in recent years. Of course, the defensive errors at a crucial time indicates players such as Ben Davies are at times operating the absolute upper end of their limits.
But Tottenham should take heart. They’re mixing it with the best in Europe. They are almost with them. Just now, they’re not close enough, of course; but they are closing.
It was a performance of experience and tenacity typified by the imperious Chiellini