Battling draw on the night ensures progressionTottenham produced a stout defensive display in a lacklustre affair to hold AC Milan to a 0-0 draw that ensured their progression to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
In a game that promised much yet delivered little, Milan just about had the upper hand throughout. However, they failed to produce any defining moments of quality when pushing forward and for all their bluster rarely threatened Heurelho Gomes’ goal.
Tottenham themselves did not live up to their billing as one of the tournament’s most intoxicating attacking forces and were limited to the odd Rafael Van der Vaart effort from well outside the Milan box.
Despite the odd couple of scary moments defensively, Tottenham held the visitors at bay and, thanks to Peter Crouch’s first-leg goal, join Europe’s elite in the last eight of the competition.
With Milan in the knowledge that they had to chalk up at least one goal at White Hart Lane in order to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals, a potent attacking triumvirate of Alexandre Pato, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho were charged with the task of breaking down Tottenham’s notoriously haphazard defence.
However, it was the hosts who underlined their own attacking intent in the game’s primary exchanges. Steven Pienaar picked the ball up on the left flank, drifted inside and slotted the ball into the path of Van der Vaart, though, as defenders closed in from both sides, the Dutchman could only disappointingly toe-poke it wide.
As a spectacle the game flattered to deceive, with an early tempo that quickly subsided once Milan began to get a stranglehold on the game.
Perhaps with good reason given its relative success, Tottenham’s main outlet was long, diagonal balls onto the head of Peter Crouch. With Van der Vaart buzzing around the beanpole striker, this directness nearly came off a couple of times but for the visitors’ anticipation of the deep-lying forward’s eagerness to pounce on any knockdowns.
Having the lion’s share of possession had little effect on Milan’s ability to prise open the Spurs back four though, with the hosts initially buoyed by rabid home support.
Milan first forced a save out of Gomes when Ibrahimovic stung the Brazilian shot-stopper’s palms with a free-kick from an awkward angle out on the right. The effort was speculative at best, but proved the catalyst to the Serie A leaders showing a touch more attacking impetus.
When Pato was slipped in behind William Gallas there seemed to be no evident danger. Yet a lack of pace over the first five yards allowed Pato to slip in behind the Frenchman. The anxiety around the ground was heightened when Pato rounded Gomes, though, with the ball cut back to the edge of the area, Robinho could only scuff his effort. The ball caught a wicked deflection off Benoit Assou-Ekotto, which increased the danger before Gallas redeemed himself with a well-judged and strong goal-line clearance with his team mere inches away from conceding.
Firmly on the back foot, Tottenham had little opportunity to show the attacking nous that they have quickly become renowned for on the continent and were largely limited to counter attacks that soon fizzled out and Van der Vaart efforts from range – of which there were two of note.
Firstly, a clean strike from a free-kick around 35 yards from goal swung threateningly towards the top corner, but with Christian Abbiati seeing it all the way, the keeper was under no pressure at all when it sailed over the bar.
Then, from a similar range and in the last action of a first half that failed to live up to expectations, the ex-Real Madrid man hit one, again on his favoured left foot, that Abbiati looked extremely comfortable in dealing with.
Line of duty | William Gallas hooks clear to preserve Spurs' advantage from the first leg
Something Harry Redknapp said at half-time must have struck a chord with the Tottenham players, as moments into the second half they crafted a glorious opportunity.
Aaron Lennon cut in from the right and hit an unexpected cross from deep with his left foot. The ball curled delightfully onto the head of Peter Crouch, who had peeled away to the far post, yet the striker seemed caught in two minds and his header dropped rather tamely at Abbiati’s feet.
However, it did not take too long for the game to settle into the pattern that defined the first half – namely hopeful balls into Crouch from the home side that offered fleeting moments of excitement in the Milan box as well as long, fruitless periods of possession for the visitors.
With such a wealth of attacking players at their disposal up top, Milan quickly became frustrated at their inability to create any clear-cut chances. Two quick-fire yellow cards, firstly for Mattheu Flamini for committing the type of rash challenge that has become his trademark over the tie and secondly after Pato refused to give 10 yards for a free-kick, characterised the visitors' clear exasperation.
It was not until well after the hour mark that Milan offered any meaningful assault on Gomes’ goal. As Robinho cut in from the flank he forced Gomes into a smart save down low to his right and as the ball pinballed around the box amongst a forest of players, Robinho could only stab it wide as it fell to him.
The introduction of Gareth Bale offered the home side little respite, as Milan continued to press forward. Producing an alarming lack of quality in the Spurs defensive third, time quickly became of the essence for the visitors.
Some inventive interplay around the box saw Pato leather the ball goalwards from just outside the area. A ripple of jubilation from the travelling fans was soon drowned out by an almighty and mocking roar from the Spurs faithful as it transpired that the ball hit the side-netting rather than the back of the net.
As the clock ticked down, Milan failed to find the spark of inspiration that was so sorely needed. Pato blasted one high and wide when it opened up for him 25 yards out, while Robinho hit a smart volley over from an almost identical position.
That was the best they could muster though, as Tottenham saw out a 0-0 draw that took little away from the magnitude of their achievement in eliminating the Italian giants.
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