So much for this being a tournament no one cared about, occupied by teams no one had heard of.
Try telling that to Nuno Espirito Santo, whose Tottenham squad hobbled across The Channel already depleted and limped away from this corner of western France even more battered and bruised.
Not beaten, but safe in the knowledge that Thursday evenings might not be much fun for a while. For that they have Rennes to thank on Thursday night.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s (left) late goal earned Spurs a 2-2 Conference League draw at Rennes
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side were given a big Conference League workout in Thursday night
The French side, currently 11th in Ligue 1, rose to this opening night – roared on by a ferocious atmosphere in which Spurs very nearly wilted. This Europa Conference League might have legs, you know.
Midway through a breathless 90 minutes, Rennes supporters pulled out red flares and soon Nuno must have considered looking for his white flag. Only Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s late equaliser stopped this punishing evening being compounded by defeat.
Already without Son Heung-min, Eric Dier and Ryan Sessegnon through injury, Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura are now jostling for room on the treatment table too. At least it’s only Chelsea on Sunday.
To think, for a few minutes after Loic Bade’s early own goal, this threatened to be a comfortable evening for Spurs.
Spurs lost both Lucas Moura (middle) and Steven Bergwijn to injuries in either half in France
Tottenham took the lead when Lucas Moura’s (right) shot deflected in off Loic Bade
But Rennes were the better side thereafter and deservedly turned the game around through Flavien Tait and Gaetan Laborde. The home crowd were relentless too, silenced only briefly by Hojbjerg late on.
The Rennes ultras, crammed in behind one goal, afforded their visitors a deafening welcome with Brittany’s version of ‘Land of My Fathers’ and then unfurled a vast tifo up their ‘Celtic Kop’ – one of several nods to this regions’ heritage. ‘Are you ready to fight,’ it asked in English. Fortunately Nuno’s selection suggested Spurs weren’t here for a cuddle.
He made seven changes from defeat by Crystal Palace but Harry Kane still led a strong side. The reshuffle saw Ndombele handed his first start since April – in from the cold, the Frenchman provided some immediate spark and then helped create Spurs’ opener with a blend of skill and selflessness.
Hounded towards the touchline, Ndombele tried an ambitious backheel. He took a tumble for his troubles but the pass found Oliver Skipp, who fed Kane, whose ball put Moura in behind.
His cross-cum-shot was deflected home by the unfortunate Bade and the early going suggested Spurs would turn the screw thereafter. Credit Rennes, though, they would not yield. Not when this place kept bouncing.
Left back Adrien Truffert, a constant menace, headed over with the goal at his mercy four minutes before Tait shared a one-two with Serhou Guirassy and curled past Pierluigi Gollini.
From there, the first half made for painful viewing for the 150-odd Spurs fans who made this trip.
The visitors again struggled for creativity and then lost Bergwijn – only just back from injury – after half an hour. It was they who reached half-time thankful to be level, after more Rennes pressure ended with Kamaldeen Sulemana heading wide.
Flavien Tait curled ina a wonderful first-half leveller for Rennes in northwest France
Gaeten Laborde tapped the French side late in the second-half to worry Nuno Espirito Santo
Spurs emerged back into the fog of pyrotechnics and, in fairness, did manage to clear their heads.
They regained a foothold and Ndombele almost created a second after a neat one-two with Kane, only to be denied by goalkeeper Romain Salin.
But Nuno was forced into another re-jig nine minutes after the break when Moura went lame and Kane made way for teenager Dane Scarlett.
All the while Rennes still looked the more likely and with 19 minutes left they took the lead, Laborde turning the ball home after Gollini’s save from Sulemana fell his way.
Fortunately for Spurs, parity presented itself soon after, when Matt Doherty’s cross deflected kindly to Hojbjerg, who shushed the crowd and Spurs avoided more damage.