Tottenham Hotspur clinched progression into the knock-out rounds of the Europa League after beating FK Partizan Belgrade 1-0 at White Hart Lane. The win puts them two points ahead of Besiktas in Group C; their final game is against Besiktas in Turkey in December.
The first half was memorable, but not for the action on the field. Play was halted midway through the first half after three fans invaded the pitch at different points during the match. All of the invaders were wearing identical shirts for an electronics manufacturer in what was presumed to be a publicity stunt. Play was halted by the officials for ten minutes, but eventually resumed.
The match was relatively open in the first half, but neither team could figure out how to finish. Roberto Soldado dragged an early shot just wide (lol) in the second minute, and Paulinho had another shot go high over the crossbar three minutes later. The action was end-to-end for most of the first half, with both teams getting chances on goal. Partizan in particular had a couple of good chances, but Hugo Lloris made good stops. If either team knew how to finish, there would've been goals aplenty. The defense for both clubs was pretty poor. After an untold number of injury time minutes due to the suspension of play, the match ended 0-0.
Things picked up in the second half. Just four minutes after halftime with zero changes at the break, Benjamin Stambouli put a gorgeous through-ball in for Roberto Soldado, who's chipped shot hit the post (lolol). Thankfully, Benji was there to collect the rebound and knocked the ball past the Partizan keeper Lukac to put Spurs up 1-0.
Spurs had plenty of chances in the 2nd half – Erik Lamela had a cracker that went just wide in the 63rd minute, and another in the 68th minute that was again saved by Lukac. Harry Kane, who was subbed in for Soldado in the 63rd minute, had a nice effort from a free kick that was parried away for a corner, and a goal that was rightly called back for offsides late in the match.
The best chance of the match came again from Stambouli who found himself one-on-one with the Partizan keeper but instead of shooting opted for the unselfish pass to Lamela, who missed from an acute angle. Lamela later was hacked down in the box with no penalty given. His ensuing shot from the short corner was again parried away.
This wasn't a one-side affair: Partizan had their moments, and had one excellent opportunity to equalize late. Defender Vladimir Volkov directed a powerful header towards Spurs' goal, but Hugo Lloris made a diving leap to save the shot, and the result.
This match was also the first team debut of Spurs academy midfielder Harry Winks, who came onto the pitch to great applause for Paulinho in the 87th minute.
This win, combined with Beskitas drawing 2-2 at Asteras Tripolis, not only ensured that Tottenham advances to the Round of 32, but also means that they can clinch the group with a draw or win in their final match at Besiktas on December 11. By that point we'll also know which Champions League drop-outs will parachute into Europa. The Europa League draw will take place on December 15, 2014 in Nyon,
- The pitch invasion thing was weird, and not something I've ever seen before. Reportedly, the invaders were all wearing shirts of an electronics manufacturer that is a club sponsor. Why a club sponsor would want to shoot themselves in the foot like that, I'm not exactly sure. I'm certain we'll get a better idea of what went on a little later. It's quite possible that this stunt will result in sanctions from UEFA against the club. Mind-bogglingly dumb.
- We finally got to see a Nabil Bentaleb-Stambouli midfield, and it looked pretty darned good! Stambouli doesn't have a whole lot of pace, but he's solid with the ball and really did help shield a rather meh defensive line from Partizan's attackers. I wonder how he'd look with Mason against Everton.
- Poor, poor, poor Roberto Soldado. He had chance after chance today, and no matter what he did that ball just wouldn't go in the net. He played great today, but it's hard not to think that maybe Adebayor's mother put some bad juju on him.
- I've bagged on Paulinho a lot lately, but he played pretty well today. You can see he's technically solid, and he worked hard, even getting a few good shots out. A good shift for the Brazilian.
- I can understand why Pochettino opted to start Hugo Lloris in this match, because as good as Michel Vorm is (and he is) I'm not sure he would've been able to keep out everything Partizan threw at goal today. Hugo is just awesome.
- Very thrilled to see Harry Winks get his first team debut today. One thing you can say about Pochettino is that he really does seem to be committed to giving promising youth players a chance
- Happy Thanksgiving!