Spurs made heavy weather of progressing to the quarter finals of the
UEFA Cup despite looking comfortable in the early stages of the second
leg against Sporting Braga, but the match ended in another entertaining
3-2 does not
properly reflect the balance of play with Radek Cerny wondering what he
has done wrong in a previous life to be on the end of three goals last
Sunday and two tonight, all of which he could do little about. For
all the chances Spurs carved out early on, they failed to capitalise on
them to put the aggregate score beyond Braga and thus there was always a
way open for the Portuguese side to get into the game.
There was a confident air about
Tottenham, as they stroked the ball about for long periods in the first
half, while Braga seemed to be running around in a vain pursuit of the
ball. Perhaps Tottenham should have had a penalty in the 13th
minute, when Keane's jinking run to the line saw him pull the ball back
and Braga captain Jorge slid in to block, but the ball appeared to come
off his hand inside the area. Unfortunately, neither referee M.
Dumahel, nor his linesman brother failed to spot it.
Following the two soft awards Braga that
led to goals were handed in the first leg, it was therefore galling that
the first goal of the evening came from another cheap free-kick the
referee gifted to the Portuguese. The free-kick was whipped in
fast and although Huddlestone was on the front edge of the penalty area,
the ball skidded off his head and flew into the top corner out of the
reach of Cerny's despairing dive. Going a goal down was not the
worse thing, but at 3-3 on aggregate, it would only take a slip in
defence for the visitors to go ahead.
Robbie Keane's movement was causing Braga
problems and he manoeuvred the ball to make a yard for himself in the
box, but went for power and his shot flew over the top. It was
only a brief respite, as when the Irish striker broke forward, he was
faced by five Braga defenders on the edge of their area. Holding
the ball up and seeking support, Berbatov made an intelligent run on the
left behind the line of defenders and a shrewd ball through allowed his
to take his shot first time. Not only that but it was expertly
delivered past Paulo Santos with the outside of the right foot to pass
the ball into the back of the net in a true class forward's way.
But that was nothing compared to what was to come.
The only blot on Berbatov's copybook came
when he tried to stop a free-kick being taken quickly and toe poked the
ball away, earning his second yellow card of the competition, but
meaning he was on the brink of a ban with one more caution. A
mysterious move involving a low cross by Lee, some messing about with
the ball by Keane and Malbranque and it finding itself at the feet of
Berbatov with only the keeper to beat in the six yard box still failed
to result in a goal. The Bulgarian tried to dig the ball out over
the prone keeper, but it was blocked away and the chance evaporated.
This pre-empted another goalmouth scramble with Lennon's low cross
finding Keane, who hit a cross-shot that Steed tried to back-heel in
from in front of the goal, but once more Santos managed to get behind
With Malbranque and Andrade exchanging
long range efforts at each end, play was quite open, but none more so
than three minutes before the break when Hud took a quick free-kick from
30 yards and found Berbatov on his own on the edge of the 18 yard box.
Surely we would see him given offside, but not this time. So, he
took the ball on his chest and without waiting for a whistle, he thumped
the ball on the volley past the keeper, who stood no chance. It
was another goal of class and supreme finishing ability, but more than
that it was a goal that literally left the crowd gasping. When he
hit it there was an audible intake of breath from the supporters, who
could not believe what they were seeing.
At half-time, Tony Parks, the hero of the
1984 UEFA Cup final penalty shoot-out was introduced to the crowd and he
recounted the following morning's appearance, worse for wear on the
TV-AM show that drew a disapproving look from Anne Diamond !! Now
there's a seal of approval if ever there was one !!
Although Cerny had conceded he looked
solid in goal, coming for crosses and making good decisions on whether
to catch or punch. He took a couple of dipping free-kicks well,
which bounced right in front of him at his feet, but was left grasping
air when another soft free-kick 30 yards out was drilled with great
power through the wall by Andrade. Having a player falling back
into the wall and taking them with him helped make the gap to shoot
through though. So we were now at 5-4 to Tottenham, but just one
goal away from seeing the thirty minutes extra time be playable.
It was something Spurs did not need with all the fixtures they have
played lately, so something had to be done.
With Spurs being forced to play Chimbonda
in the middle, where he had a good game, but looked like Clive Dunn in
his white grand-dad long johns. Stalteri had another good match at
right back in Pascal's place and Lee enjoyed some space up the left too.
Chimbonda had a header early in the second half that went wide across
the goal, when it looked like he should have done better with it and
when he went forward for corners, he caused panic in the area. One
such set-piece saw the ball drop in front of the Braga goal and two
Spurs players were sent sprawling with it looking like a penalty was a
certainty. But once more, the ref ignored claims.
A double sub by the side from Portugal
was made to put some fresh legs into the team, but Tottenham dealt with
it well. In fact, they went on to restore their lead in the game
with a finely worked goal. Lee knocked a pass inside to Malbranque
who laid it off to Berbatov in the centre of the box. Steed
continued his run and took a deft flick from Dimitar's foot to knock the
ball past Santos as he tried to close him down to net a neat finish.
Berbatov's importance, not only with his goals, but with his assists
show that he has been a fine buy.
When the referee ruled out Huddlestone's
firm finish because he hand-balled in the build up to his "goal". it
looked like Braga might get a let off, but the big midfielder almost
wrapped up the inw with a fine low half-volley that ripped a foot off
the floor and missed by a yard with the keeper rooted to the spot.
He had been having some fun with the Park Lane fans, who were
wolf-whistling him in his tight fitting shirt and shorts. I am
sure his toe-touching stretched with his back to the supporters was not
designed to stretch his hamstrings !!
One more weak refereeing decisions saw a
30 yard free-kick being lined up by Andrade, but this time, he perhaps
showed the earlier effort was a fluke, as this one ended up not in the
net, but in row L of the top tier in the Paxton Road stand. The
final goal might have gone to Spurs, as Malbranque broke into the box
and was wiped out by Filipe, but the wonderful match official decided
that the Frenchman had thrown himself, so booked him for simulation !!
Replays showed that we should have had a spot-kick.
With the minutes running out and Braga
dunning after the ball, Spurs made one more chance, with Zokora breaking
forward and playing it to Defoe, who was on for Keano. Stalteri
moved wide and took the pass before playing it neatly into Berbatov, but
he was under pressure and he could only poke it wide, when it looked an
easier chance than the two he had scored.
With the final whistle, a tired Spurs
side celebrated, while Braga realised that one the night, they had
fresher legs all round, but could not match the hunger and ability this
Tottenham team demonstrated. When few players put in a bad
performance, it is tough to take anything against them and Braga only
got the shirts they exchanged at the end of the match to take back home
For Tottenham, another quarter final
awaits and another chapter in the European history of the club is to be