They got it done, just, and go to Barcelona still fighting. If Tottenham in the Nou Camp match Inter Milan’s outcome at home to PSV Eindhoven, they will progress to the Champions League knock-out stage.
Mauricio Pochettino’s substitutions changed the match again, as they did against Eindhoven here the last time. Either he’s a genius, or he’s starting the wrong teams.
No-one was complaining on 80 minutes on Wednesday night, however, when Christian Eriksen’s goal won the game and kept Tottenham afloat with a puncher’s chance in Spain. Maybe they will get to play Champions League football at the new White Hart Lane this season after all – even if the fixture, and the location, still feel some distance away.
Christian Eriksen celebrates scoring the winning goal as Tottenham leave it late to beat Inter Milan 1-0 on Wednesday night
The Danish playmaker finished off a well-worked move as he thumped home the winning goal with just 10 minutes of play left
Inter Milan’s defenders were unable to block Eriksen’s effort having done well to deny the Spurs attack throughout the game
Eriksen’s Tottenham team-mates swarm him as they celebrate the winning goal at Wembley stadium on Wednesday evening
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS, GROUP TABLE AND MATCH ZONE
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Lloris 6.5; Aurier 6.5, Alderweireld 6.5, Vertonghen 6, Davies 6; Sissoko 6, Winks 7 (Dier 87), Alli 6.5; Lamela 6 (Eriksen 70, 7.5), Moura 6 (Son 62, 6); Kane 6
Subs not used: Gazzaniga (GK); Rose, Walker-Peters, Llorente
Scorer: Eriksen (80)
Booked: Alderweireld (28), Lamela (45), Son (73)
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino 6
Inter (4-2-3-1): Handanovic 6; D’Ambrosio 6, De Vrij 7, Skriniar 7, Asamoah 6; Vecino 6.5, Brozovic 6; Politano 6, Nainggolan 5 (Valero 44, 6.5), Perisic 5; Icardi 6
Subs not used: Padelli (GK); Martinez, Ranocchia, Candreva
Booked: De Vrij (70), Valero (81)
Manager: Luciano Spalletti 6.5
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir 6 (Turkey)
Man of the Match: Christian Eriksen
*Ratings done by Matt Barlow
Christian Eriksen (No 23) finishes off a brilliant run from Moussa Sissoko’s run before Dele Alli (No 20) receives the ball, spins, and then smartly lays the ball off for the Dane to rifle the ball high into the roof of the net to win the game for Tottenham at Wembley. For more ofSportsmail’s fantastic MATCH ZONE feature, click here.
Still, Tottenham deserved this. They played to win, Inter to draw, so the team with more ambition took the points, which is a happy ending. Whether it would have been a more straightforward victory had Pochettino started what is undoubtedly his best XI, we will never know.
For managers, the end always justifies the means and Pochettino was in no mood for what-ifs. ‘Sometimes when you win you have to do something to spark the team, to add fresh legs, to tell them we are all important and it is not about the name but the collective,’ he said.
And who can argue with that? By winning 1-0, Tottenham are ahead of Inter Milan, head to head, on away goals having lost 2-1 in the San Siro. The upshot therefore is that if they defeat Barcelona there is nothing Inter can do to scramble ahead of them. They don’t need a specific scoreline, just a result. Draw, and an Inter win relegates Tottenham to the Europa League. Lose, and a point at home to PSV Eindhoven sees Inter through. It remains a slim chance. But there is a chance, which there didn’t look to be the longer this game unfolded goalless.
As the minutes ticked down, so Pochettino introduced his reinforcements. Players that had taken Chelsea apart just days earlier, mainly. In the 62nd minute it was Heung-min Son, scorer of that wonder goal, in place of the industrious but ultimately ineffective Lucas Moura. Within 60 seconds, he had almost broken the deadlock, cutting in on the left, his shot deflected wide.
Soon after he was causing havoc on the right. As he did so, Eriksen warmed up. The key to it. The playmaker. The best of Tottenham for so many years. Soon enough, he was on – 70th minute for Erik Lamela. His first touch of the night should have brought a goal: a perfectly flighted free-kick from the left that was met by Jan Vertonghen just yards out at the far post. How he missed it, heaven knows. Another question: how was a player who could make that pass imprisoned on the bench for so long, in a match Tottenham had to win?
Pochettino rings the changes in Europe, we know that. Yet the last time Tottenham faced a must-win group match, against Monaco in 2016, Pochettino had started Eriksen on the bench and lost 2-1. Here was history repeating; or so it appeared. Time was tight. Had he left it too late?
Harry Winks’s curling effort from outside the box crashed off the crossbar as Spurs came close to breaking the deadlock
Samir Handanovic dives and watches Winks’ shot rebound off the bar as Spurs come close just before the break
Kane hugs the post after another chance goes begging as Spurs search for the first goal in the second half at Wembley
A corner sails over the head of Jan Vertonghen who leaps highest to try and head the ball towards the Inter goal
Brozovic challenges Alli from behind as Tottenham claimed the majority of possession and chances on Wednesday evening
Immediately, with these two introductions, Tottenham looked more dangerous. Pochettino will no doubt argue that was the strategy all along. Tire Inter Milan out, knowing they will come to defend, then bring on the best creators, the sharpest minds.
Yet if that was the way to win the game at the end, why not at the start? By then, the match on a knife edge, every Inter attack threatened to put Tottenham out. In the 76th minute, the unusually quiet Ivan Perisic had a shot at the near post well saved by Hugo Lloris. In these moments, Wembley fell even quieter than usual, save for the Italian enclave.
And then it happened, the moment that Pochettino will insist was planned all along. Inter stretched to breaking point by Tottenham’s fresh legs and minds, Eriksen the match-winner with ten minutes to spare. It was a fine goal, and well deserved, on the balance of play.
Moussa Sissoko made another fine run down the right, drawing Inter’s defenders to him, before picking out Dele Alli in the middle. He took some more heat, pulled some more defenders out of position, and moved it swiftly onto Eriksen, timing his run beautifully.
Suddenly, Inter’s vulnerability was obvious. Everyone was dragged to the ball, to the near post, to Tottenham’s right flank. Eriksen was alone on the left. He doesn’t miss those. Indeed it would be hard to imagine who could. Matt Ritchie, maybe.
And that was all it took. This wasn’t an open game, like the famed encounters between these teams when Gareth Bale turned Maicon from the world best right-back into a punchline, and a single goal was always likely to decide it.
An angry Winks reacts towards Borja Valero after the Spurs man thought the Spaniard went down far too easily
Alderweireld is shown a yellow card by referee Cuneyt Cakir for a foul on Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi in the first half
Spurs talisman Kane is brought down at the feet of Inter manager Luciano Spalletti after he was fouled by Brozovic
Kane is helped up by Spalletti (right) as Tottenham looked on the front foot throughout the opening stages of the game
Alli has a shot at goal but his long-range effort sails over the crossbar as Handanovic watches it miss the target
The pattern of the match was expected, too. Having played Chelsea off the park here at the weekend, Tottenham were perfectly prepared for a match they had to win, and the first-half was all them.
It was a bright start; plenty of possession and Harry Kane battling through from a wide angle after seven minutes, his cross striking goalkeeper Samir Handanovic in the midriff and ricocheting off a post to safety. Five minutes later, a great Kane run ended with the ball threaded to Alli – star of Saturday’s show – who shot narrowly over from 25 yards.
Tottenham were in control without getting in behind Inter, but their shots from range were testing. Lamela hit a good one after 19 minutes and, soon after, Sissoko broke clear down the right flank, his cross dummied beautifully by Alli and falling to Moura, who should have done more than force a straightforward stop from Handanovic.
The best chance of the half came after 38 minutes when Harry Winks curled a lovely shot from 25 yards past Handanovic but off the bar. Minutes later, a Lamela corner fell to Moura whose header was again kept out. Maybe a bigger player would have done more damage.
Inter were ineffectual by comparison, but it was plain from the start that coach Luciano Spalletti was not about to take risks chasing glorious victory. A draw would have qualified the Italians and he was happy to soak up pressure and play on the counter-attack.
The one time his team looked like breaking free, when striker Mauro Icardi left Toby Alderweireld for dead, the Tottenham man cynically brought him down and took a booking 35 yards from goal. Icardi had a straight run at it, too, but with Serge Aurier coming across to cover, a yellow from the referee Cuneyt Cakir was appropriate. Not fair, necessarily – but appropriate.
Spurs had an early penalty shout waved away after Lucas Moura went down under the challenge of Politano
Alli makes a run through the middle after latching onto a Alderweireld long-ball but is put off by Danilo D’Ambrosio
Kane (right) draws a free kick early on from Danilo D’Ambrosio (centre) as Spurs look to get off to a quick start at Wembley
A smattering of fans cover the top tier of Wembley as the Premier League outfit played Inter in the Champions League