LONDON (AFP) – Mauricio Pochettino saluted his Tottenham ‘heroes’ as they took a huge step towards reaching the Champions League quarter-finals with a 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 first leg early yesterday.
Pochettino’s side had been under the cosh as Dortmund dominated the first half at Wembley, but Hugo Lloris kept them level with a series of fine saves.
That set the stage for a sublime second half from Tottenham, who were sparked into life by a fine finish from South Korean forward Son Heung-min.
Son’s fourth goal in his last four appearances took him to 16 for the season, but none have been as priceless as this one.
Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen capped his own powerful performance when he swept in their second goal in the closing stages and substitute Fernando Llorente’s late third put the seal on a remarkable result.
Insisting his players deserved all the praise after emerging from a gruelling schedule with their best result of the season, Pochettino said, “I want to congratulate my players one more time. It was a fantastic game, a massive effort.
“My players are heroes. They deserve a lot of praise for the effort they are doing this season. It is amazing.”
Although Tottenham still have to survive the second leg at Signal Iduna Park on March 5, they have a golden opportunity to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2011.
“3-0 is a very good result but it is only the first leg. When you have a team in front of you like Dortmund you need to respect them,” Pochettino said.
It was an especially impressive success for Pochettino given he was without the injured Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Danny Rose and Ben Davies.
Pochettino devised a clever game-plan that eventually frustrated Dortmund and secured Tottenham’s first ever Champions League knockout-round win at home.
With Rose and Davies sidelined, Pochettino deployed centre-back Vertonghen out of position at left wing-back and switched to a three-man defence that stifled the Bundesliga leaders. “It is my job to prepare the strategy. Maybe today everyone will say it was a fantastic decision. If it was a different result, people might say I’m the worst coach in the world,” he said.
“The first half was very difficult. We didn’t feel the confidence to play.
“We were a little bit lucky because when Son scored it was a massive boost to our confidence.”
Dortmund boss Lucien Favre bemoaned his team’s collapse, saying, “The start of the second half we gave it away.
“We should have gotten the ball forward rather than played from the back for their first goal. That was a gift.
“After that we played a bit too hastily. The pressing was intensive from Tottenham.”
Lucas Moura gave Tottenham an early spark when he latched onto Davinson Sanchez’s header and smashed a volley just wide from the edge of the area.
Juan Foyth gifted Dortmund their first sight of goal when he dwelt on the ball too long and was alertly dispossessed by Christian Pulisic.
But Lloris spared Foyth’s blushes as he blocked Pulisic’s shot at the near post.
Dortmund’s rapier attacks were led by teenager Jadon Sancho, who left Manchester City to join Dortmund in 2017 without ever playing for the Premier League team.
England winger Sancho hit top gear on several occasions in a mesmerizing first-half display, leaving two Tottenham midfielders for dead and linking with Pulisic, whose shot was blocked at the last minute.
Lloris made a superb save to deny Dortmund on the stroke of half-time as Dan-Axel Zagadou met Sancho’s cross with a header that the Tottenham captain clawed out at full stretch.
Despite being pushed back for much of the first half, Tottenham had refused to surrender and their perseverance was rewarded in the 47th minute.
When Vertonghen swung over a cross from the left, Dortmund’s defence were out of position for the first time all night and Son timed his run perfectly behind Zagadou to caress a fine volley past Roman Burki.