Mauricio Pochettino backed Tottenham Hotspur to complete their UEFA Champions League escape act in Barcelona after Christian Eriksen’s late strike kept alive their last-16 hopes with a 1-0 win over Inter.
Pochettino’s side were 10 minutes away from being eliminated at the group stage as they labored to break down the massed Inter defense at Wembley.
However, Eriksen, surprisingly dropped to the bench by Pochettino, came to Tottenham’s rescue when the substitute fired home to take their Group B qualification bid down to the final game.
It was a dramatic end to a hard-fought clash that Tottenham had to win to avoid bowing out at the group stage for the second time in three seasons.
After taking one point from their opening three matches, Tottenham had scored twice in the final 12 minutes to avoid an early exit against PSV Eindhoven earlier this month.
The latest act of European escapology means second-placed Tottenham are now level on points with third-placed Inter.
They head to Barcelona to face the group leaders on Dec. 11 knowing that they will reach the last 16 as long as they match Inter’s result against PSV on the same night.
That will not be easy against Lionel Messi and company, but Pochettino has faith.
“All is possible in football. We have big respect to Barcelona, they are one of the best teams in Europe, it will be so tough, but we have belief and faith that we can win,” Pochettino said.
“We need fresh legs, fresh mind and no injuries. We need to arrive that way in Barcelona,” he added.
Barca might rest players given that they are already through, but Pochettino is not expecting any favors.
“I expect that they are going to play with all the best players, but I don’t know how they are going to prepare the side,” he said. “We need to approach the game in the best way and believe that we can win.”
“What Barcelona is going to do is not in our hands. In the Champions League, no one is going to give a present and not care about the result,” he added.
Inter boss Luciano Spalletti still expects that they will advance if they beat PSV, because Barca are so formidable at home.
“As long as we do our job, I think we will go through. It is about what we do,” he said. “They have got some top-class players at Barcelona, they haven’t lost at home in the last five years in the Champions League and they will want to keep that record.”
Faced with a do-or-die situation, Pochettino had claimed it was “massive motivation” for Tottenham to silence the critics who said they had blown their chance to make the last 16.
His players seemed to have taken that message to heart as they dominated the first half.
Inter’s knowledge that a point would send them through meant they approached their first competitive match at Wembley with extreme caution.
Content to defend deep for long periods, Inter’s safety-first game plan was almost undone when Harry Winks curled a superb long-range effort against the bar.
Pochettino introduced Eriksen in the 70th minute and it proved an inspired move, as the Denmark playmaker turned the game in Tottenham’s favor.
Hugo Lloris made a fine save to deny Ivan Perisic and Tottenham finally broke through in the 80th minute.
At last unlocking the stubborn Inter defense, a sweeping move featured Moussa Sissoko and Dele Alli exchanging passes before Eriksen was teed up for a cool finish.
Pochettino’s relief was clear as he looked to the heavens and pumped his fists, but Tottenham still have one last daunting hurdle to overcome in Barcelona before they can celebrate a last-16 berth.
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