Tottenham Hotspur was scheduled to play its first Europa League match in three years at Bulgarian side Lokomotiv Plovdiv in the second of qualifying for the tournament. José Mourinho was not throwing it back to the old days with a lineup full of first team starters, but the match felt like a repeat of Europa League ventures past. Traveling to play a new opponent in a foreign location? Check. A match where Tottenham outplayed the opponent to start? Check. A match playing out in a surprisingly challenging way? Check.
It was almost like one did not need to watch the match; after all, memories of Europa are still fresh for many Spurs fans but even then, fans not watching were not missing much. Perhaps the most entertaining event of the first half was when Steven Bergwijn was denied a penalty in the 28th minute after Lucas Masoero fouled him in the box for what looked like a textbook penalty kick.
Then, the match disappeared. Or did it ever appear? All I remember was an opening portion of a match where there were no goals, much like a normal match, and an end of the match where Tottenham had more goals than Plovdiv, the expected result. It is the opposite of a script that could not be written because it is the script every last one of us wrote before the match’s scheduled evening kickoff in Bulgaria.
How we got there, who could say? Maybe Spurs’ overwhelming quality eventually paid off like it would in a normal footballing sense, with someone like Son Heung-min scoring his opening goal of the season. Unexcitable and gritty is a most normal football script, and who doesn’t remember a Europa League match going that way? Isn’t the general feeling of Europa League from a Spurs point of view one of just getting the job done, anyway? There was probably nothing to see there.
I suppose if this is all just something we dreamt up, it could have been more interesting. Football’s range is so wide that it can be both boring and ridiculous at any given moment. Maybe Plovdiv made things interesting by scoring first, and maybe that goal came from a second half substitute who scored three minutes after he came on. Let’s pick a random name from the hard to find team sheet. I like the way Georgi Minchev sounds. Maybe Spurs fans despaired and the only thing that could save the team was a penalty — and a red card. You know what? Let’s make it two red cards — one a straight red for Dinis Almeida and a second yellow Birsent Karagaren, for the sake of variety. To make things slightly believable, let’s say Kane converts the penalty.
I like this chaotic dream world. Let’s say there’s confusion that Plovdiv got a third red card, but it was too good to be true even in our wild dream. This is fun and all, but I think this weird time deserves a happy ending. Let’s say Mourinho gives Tanguy Ndombele some real minutes — he can come on before the the Plovdiv goal, because our hero will have to suffer before his triumph, in addition to the additional suffering of a tough first year at Spurs. Ndombele may have suffered greatly over this year and this match — our hero is a representation of us all, who have also suffered during this match and during this year — but gets the last laugh with a winner in stoppage time.
The daunting realities of losing in a Europa League qualifier to a team very few people have heard of like West Ham is gone. The slog that would be extra time in a Europa League qualifier, eliminated. Ndombele rises to the occasion, and a trip to Bulgaria is ultimately a successful one.
Who could believe that? Honestly ... not me. It was probably a boring game.