Tottenham Hotspur won 2-0 against Tromso IL in the bitter chill of Norway on Thursday to seal first place in Europa League Group K and ease a little of the pressure on manager Andre Villas-Boas.
Reports in England in recent days suggest that the Portuguese is hanging on to his job after last Sunday’s 6-0 hammering by Manchester City in the Premier League and another substandard performance on the trip north of the Arctic Circle would have done him few favors, even if Spurs were already through to the round-of-32 before the game.
Michael Dawson and Roberto Soldado were the only two players to keep their place in the team from the Manchester City debacle, and the much-changed Spurs side had to wait until the second half before finally breaking down a team who were recently relegated to the Norwegian second tier.
The opener on the artificial pitch at the Alfheim Stadion did not come until the 63rd minute, when Adnan Causevic turned the ball into his own net under pressure from Vlad Chiriches.
The London club doubled their advantage when Gylfi Sigurdsson set up Mousa Dembele to fire home with 14 minutes remaining.
Dembele struck the post soon after, but the 2-0 scoreline was enough to maintain Tottenham’s perfect record in Group K and boost their confidence ahead of tomorrow’s Premier League clash with Manchester United.
“It was important for us to get back to winning ways. We said that before the game when we were back in London,” Villas-Boas said. “We knew about the conditions and the artificial pitch, and the players did well to get a result which puts us back on our toes, ready for Man Utd.”
Meanwhile, Swansea City were unable to get the point that would have clinched their qualification from Group A as they lost 1-0 at home to already-qualified Valencia, Dani Parejo scoring the only goal of the game in the first half.
However, Swansea were left to rue an erroneous decision by the officials when they disallowed an Alvaro Vazquez effort before the break that would have brought the Welsh side back level.
“I’ve seen the disallowed goal and it was at least one yard onside, so that was a pity,” Swansea manager Michael Laudrup told ITV after the game. “With a little more we could have got that point, at least, that would have got us through. Now we have to maybe get that point in the last game in Switzerland [against St Gallen].”
Laudrup also lost Wilfried Bony to a hamstring injury which could rule the striker our for several weeks.
Kuban Krasnodar beat St Gallen 4-0 earlier in the day, with Paraguayan Lorenzo Melgarejo scoring twice, and the Russians could yet overhaul Swansea in the final round of group matches.
There was agony for England’s other representative, Wigan Athletic, who saw their chances of qualification taken out of their hands after a 2-1 home loss to Belgium’s SV Zulte Waregem in Group D.
However, a total of 18 clubs have now qualified for the round-of-32, including Eintracht Frankurt, who secured top spot in Group F with a 1-0 victory at Girondins de Bordeaux.
French side Olympique Lyonnais, who have endured a difficult start to the season, are through after recording a narrow 1-0 win at home to Spanish top-flight strugglers Real Betis Balompie, with Bafetimbi Gomis coming off the bench to score the only goal of the Group I game in the second half at the Stade de Gerland.
Despite the defeat, Betis are also through, their superior head-to-head record against Vitoria of Guimaraes — who drew 0-0 with HNK Rijeka in Croatia — guaranteeing them at least second spot.
Betis’ local rivals Sevilla are certain to progress from Group H, despite only managing a 1-1 home draw with GD Estoril Praia in Spain.
Rubin Kazan of Russia, KRC Genk of Belgium, SS Lazio, Anzhi Makhachkala, Greece’s PAOK and AZ of the Netherlands also secured their berths in the knockout stages on Thursday.