Fri, Mar 09, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Pochettino proud of Spurs, despite loss

OUT OF STEAM:Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said Tottenham’s inability to maintain their high tempo was a critical factor in his side’s second-half fightback

AFP, LONDON

Juventus’ Paulo Dybala, left, challenges Tottenham Hotspur’s Jan Vertonghen for the ball in their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 second leg at Wembley Stadium in London on Wednesday.

Photo: AFP

Mauricio Pochettino insisted Tottenham Hotspur had nothing to be ashamed of after three minutes of madness ended their UEFA Champions League challenge in a painful 2-1 defeat to Juventus on Wednesday.

Tottenham were on course to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2011 when Son Heung-min rewarded their first-half dominance with the opening goal at Wembley.

As the first leg finished 2-2, Son’s strike put Pochettino’s side ahead on aggregate, but Juventus completely flipped the script in the second leg of the last-16 tie with a stirring second-half fightback.

Gonzalo Higuain punished poor Tottenham marking to steer in Juventus’ equalizer and Paulo Dybala bagged the winner three minutes later with a cool finish after splitting the hosts’ poorly executed offside trap.

It was a bitter blow for Tottenham and the loss raised fresh questions about their ability to win major trophies under Pochettino.

However, yet to land any silverware with the north Londoners, Pochettino bristled at suggestions Tottenham are not mentally strong enough to win on the big occasions.

“All this talk is rubbish. At the end, it is win or lose. When you assess the game, I think only Tottenham was better for more than 70 minutes,” he said. “If Harry [Kane] scored at the end or we scored twice in the first half, maybe we are talking differently.”

“I’m happy with my players. We did everything to try to win,” he said. “It was not a lack of experience, not a lack of concentration. How many chances did we concede? We conceded three chances and they scored twice. We had a lot of chances and only scored one.”

“We can talk about a lot of situations, but sometimes you need some luck to win,” he added.

Pochettino had this week spoken passionately about his dream of making Tottenham one of the best sides in England and Europe. Even surrendering the lead against the Italian champions could not dissuade the Argentine from his belief that Tottenham are on the brink of joining Europe’s superpowers.

“I feel very proud, we dominated overall against a very good team like Juventus,” Pochettino said. “In the two games we were much better, but at this level the tie went to Juventus in three minutes.”

“I’m disappointed, of course, but the quality of the team was very good. We showed massive maturity. I’m relaxed and happy,” he said. “I’m still a dreamer. When you compete in the Champions League with these clubs, you can win or lose. Football is not a nightmare for me.”

Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri said he never lost faith his side could fight back, despite their lethargic first half.

“The guys put in a fantastic performance. Even at 1-0 down we had a good reaction,” Allegri said. “We had created chances in the first half, so we were confident we could get one goal back and kick on from there.”

“You are going to find games that are difficult. We did suffer a lot but that’s normal in football,” he said. “It’s fantastic to win a game at Wembley, a temple of football.”

Allegri said Tottenham’s inability to maintain their high tempo was a crucial factor, as was Juventus’ vast Champions League experience.

The two-time champions are bidding to reach a third Champions League final in four years.

“I thought there was a bit of a dip in the physicality of the Spurs players in the second half,” Allegri said. “We are used to playing these games. We can go in with a clear head and being calm.”

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