Another last minute goal for Spurs saved what looked like an easy
victory over Sporting Braga in Portugal tonight, after a referee
assisted comeback almost helped the Portuguese side come back to London
for the second leg on level terms.
The way Tottenham started this UEFA Cup tie, it looked as though they
were a little too confident. Berbatov was so cool on the ball that
it looked like he was taking the mickey, while the chances Spurs missed
might have come back to haunt them in the end. But it was at the
end that Robbie Keane sealed a vital win and an even more vital third
With Braga showing a reluctance to go
forward and the speed of the attacks, Spurs coped well with their
forward forays in the first half. Dawson threw a block in front of
an early effort from Castanheira and Robinson had to be sharp to palm
away a deflected Joao Pinto shot and Dawson was there to get in the way
of the follow-up from Ze Carlos. In between, Spurs opened the home
defence with ease. Dimitar's nonchalant sway took two defenders
out of the game as the dummy was bought and left him with a chance, but
he prodded the ball wide as the keeper closed him down. Then
Tainio got into a good position when put through by Berba, but his shot
was placed a bit to precisely and not far enough out of Santos' reach.
Braga had their closest effort on 20
minutes, with Castenheira firing powerfully on goal, but the good
approach work by Wender was wasted as it lacked any accuracy.
Berbatov was equally lacking the right finish when Malbranque, who had
an effective evening, put him in on the right side of the box, but the
ball slid wide of the far post as the Bulgarian striker moved into the
six yard box.
A cross from the Braga right came all the
way through to Gama, who struck his shot first time, but Robbo was well
behind it, as he was when Andrade took time off from late tackling Spurs
players to get off a long range effort. Santos was on his toes
when Robbie hit Berbatov's cross at goal and the Braga keeper touched it
over the top to preserve his clean sheet. With Lee doing well down
the left and finding space to go forward, he produced a low cross in the
38th minute, which Keano stepped over and Berbatov looked favourite to
score as he hit a low shot from close range and Santos got behind it and
kept it out with his forearm.
So, having dominated the bulk of the
play, Spurs had nothing to show at half-time apart from a clean sheet,
which could have been vital in the remainder of the game. Keeping
the same line-up, Tottenham got Lennon more involved in this half and he
scared the daylights out of Braga with his pace and ability to turn
sharply. The first scare of the half was a warning to Tottenham,
as Ze Carlos was fed in the area and he turned quickly to strike a
powerful shot that hit the side-netting.
Berbatov picked up a needless yellow card
for throwing the ball down after conceding a free-kick for a foul.
He was consistently pulled up for fouls, but when he was caught late,
the referee waved play on, so his frustration boiled over.
However, the team linked up well to break through with eight minutes of
the second half gone. Lennon seemed to be faced by too many
red-shirted defenders and he got a break as he burst between two of
them, with the ball popping up on the other side of the combined
challenge. Aaron lifted it neatly for Robbie Keane to hit a
volley, under pressure from a defender, which was wide and high of
Santos, but rippled the net to give Tottenham a deserved lead.
Keane has taken his goals recently very
well, but with some better finishing, he could have doubled the lead.
Malbranque found space wide to put in a neat cross and timing his run to
perfection, Keane got onto it with his head, but he put it wide with
Santos stranded in no-man's land.
Halfway through the second period, Jorge
Costa made a double substitution, which changed the course of the match.
It went the wrong way for the home side first, as Lennon cut inside from
the left wing to hit a low shot that Santos should have held, but he
could only knock it out straight into the path of Malbranque who hit the
ball high into the roof of the net to make it 2-0 to Spurs, which was
nothing more than they deserved.
Martin Jol brought on Huddlestone for the
tiring Tainio, as he tried to take the 2-0 win home, but it didn't work
out that way. The penalty decision that closed the gap on our lead
was a soft one to say the very least. Substitute Diego took a low
ball across in front of Gardner, but as he took a touch, he dropped to
the floor without any contact seeming to be made. Coming after a
similar incident in the first half when Aaron Lennon was bundled over,
it was a real shocker by the match official. It didn't end there,
as the penalty kick was a poor one and Robinson got across to keep it
out, but the ball bounced down off his arm and back in front of goal,
where Paolo Jorge followed the ball in to bring Braga a goal closer to
I'm not sure what went on after the goal,
but Pascal Chimbonda was shown a yellow card and Spurs started to rock
as Braga pressed forward. Another substitution was shortly
followed by a dodgy free-kick for a non-foul by Lee and when it was
swept in with pace to the near post, Ze Carlos got home in front of
Huddlestone to glance a header with power down and in at Robinson's near
post to draw Braga level and put them on course to preserve their six
month unbeaten home record.
With nine minutes to go, you might have
thought Tottenham would be pressurised before the end, but Tottenham
moved the ball well and Keane took a headed clearance and might have
done better with an early shot. It didn't really matter after the
final whistle, as the Irishman showed good finishing when he was put
through two minutes into injury time. Zokora, who had shown good,
powerful running from midfield and some good passing, picked out a
through ball to Keano, who looked suspiciously offside. However,
with the flag staying down, he took the ball on and as Santos came out,
he struck his shot low through the keeper's legs and although he got
something on the effort, the ball bounced up after going through him and
into the net to give Spurs the upper hand for the second leg in a week's
Robbie isn't always the best finisher
when one-on-one, but he kept cool and found the net for a vital third
away goal at a time when there was no coming back for Braga. The
number of last minute goals shows that the team are fitter now, as they
keep going and always look capable of scoring.
To tell the truth, this match was much
easier than the score-line and the performance suggested. With a
more typical home performance next week, it will be very difficult to
see Braga getting back into the tie, as their attack is not the
strongest and with a decent ref, Spurs should be captains of their own
A good night's work ... and it was that
as the match finished at about 11.30 p.m. and the was evident as the
Tottenham songs rang out for the time it took to clear the modern, but
weird open-ended stadium.