It was billed as a must win game for Tottenham Hotspur if they wanted to advance out of Group H and into the knockout stages of the Champions League. Surely they had to defeat Cypriot minnows APOEL.
It was nervy at times, but the Lilywhites got the job done. They continued their strong start to the group stage with a 3-0 victory. Harry Kane, as usual, was unstoppable.
A hefty injury/suspension list meant Mauricio Pochettino had to send out a slightly-odd lineup. The back three saw Ben Davies at LCB alongside Davinson Sanchez and Toby Alderweireld. Serge Aurier won’t be available this weekend against Huddersfield, so he was given another start at RWB, while Kieran Trippier played on the other side at LWB.
Spurs started strong, and dominated possession for most of the first half. But APOEL grew into the match as they played in front of a raucous home crowd.
Roland Sallai put an early header wide of the post, and it might have troubled Hugo Lloris had it been on frame.
The biggest chance of the half for the home side fell to Igor De Camargo. He took a blistering shot on a counter-attack that clanged off the crossbar. Lloris was rooted to the ground, and the GSP Stadium couldn’t believe their club hadn’t taken the lead.
A few minutes later they came close again. Alderweireld lost his marker on a corner kick, but Carlão fluffed the open header wide of the net.
The Cypriot club should have been ahead by at least one, and then they found themselves behind just a few minutes before halftime.
Alderweireld picked Kane out with a simple pass, and the APOEL defense were punished for failing to maintain their back-line. Kane was kept onside by a defender across the field, and he turned around to easily slide the ball past the onrushing keeper.
The second half also brought some scary moments for Spurs, but only initially.
Hugo was called on to make a few impressive saves in the opening few minutes. The most dangerous shot in that period came from Stathis Aloneftis, which Lloris acrobatically tipped over.
Spurs’ defense had been relatively open all game, and thus Pochettino decided to make a formation change. Fernando Llorente came on for Aurier, which allowed Trippier and Davies to move back to their preferred positions on the right and left respectively.
The change worked, and Spurs quickly blew the game open.
Moussa Sissoko found an opening down the right in the 62nd minute, and played an early ball across for Kane. Harry took his time at the top of the box, and stroked the ball past Waterman and into the net.
A few minutes later, he completed his hat trick. Kane laid the ball out wide for Trippier, who put a cross back into the box just as Kane was dashing in. Harry’s header was perfectly placed into the side-netting.
It was the 24-year-old’s first Champions League hat trick, and Tottenham’s first since Gareth Bale scored one against Inter Milan at the San Siro in October 2010.
Bale’s hat trick came in a losing effort, but Kane’s was vital to Spurs picking up their second victory in as many Champions League games this season.
But Bale is a part of the tall-task that next awaits Tottenham in the competition. It will be quite the occasion when Spurs travel to the Santiago Bernabeu to play Real Madrid on October 17th.