Sports desk: Mauricio Pochettino admitted Tottenham paid the price for “two big mistakes” as Juventus staged a stunning fightback to reach the Champions League quarter-finals 4-3 on aggregate on Wednesday.
Juventus were on the brink of elimination after Son Heung-Min’s first-half strike put Tottenham ahead in the last 16, second leg at Wembley. But, despite being completely outplayed in the opening period, Juventus buckled down after the break and equalised through Gonzalo Higuain.
That was the decisive moment as Tottenham suddenly went to pieces, allowing the Italian champions to score again two minutes and 49 seconds later as Paulo Dybala punished poor defending with a cool finish.
Crashing out after having the tie in their hands with a 2-1 loss on the night was a bitter pill for Tottenham to swallow and once again raised questions about their ability to win major trophies.
Although Pochettino claimed Tottenham deserved to win after dominating for so long, the Argentine coach conceded his side shot themselves in the foot with their defensive blunders.
“In less than three minutes we conceded two goals – two big mistakes – and that is why we are out,” he said.
“In both legs we deserved more. I feel proud. We played fantastic football until that first goal and we dominated. “But in football it is not about deserving, you have to score goals and not concede.
“Of course we are very disappointed but it is part of growing. We will keep going.” It was an epic escape act from Juventus, who remain on course to reach a third Champions League final in four seasons after twice finishing as runners-up.
The two-time European champions have enjoyed some memorable moments in the competition, but coming back from the brink against such in-form opposition will rank as one of their finest hours.
Tottenham were in control early on and Harry Kane fed Son, whose low strike was repelled by Gianluigi Buffon. Despite a torrid opening, Juventus felt they should have had a penalty when Douglas Costa surged away from Jan Vertonghen.
But when Vertonghen’s challenge sent the Juventus winger crashing to the turf, referee Szymon Marciniak controversially waved play on.
Still seething over that decision, Juventus were ragged at the back when Son forced Buffon to palm out his header from Kieran Trippier’s cross.
Son was fuming after being stamped on by Andrea Barzagli and, determined to exact retribution, he embarked on a powerful run that ended with a shot that flashed narrowly wide. He didn’t have to wait long for the ultimate revenge as Son put Tottenham ahead in the 39th minute.
The South Korea forward has a knack of scoring at Wembley, but few will have been more fortuitous than his 14th goal at Tottenham’s temporary home.
When Trippier whipped a low cross towards the far post, Son got his feet in a tangle and miscued his shot onto his standing left leg, with the deflection somehow lifting the ball over Buffon and into the net.
Having got their reward for bossing the game, Tottenham were nearly punished when Miralem Pjanic smashed just wide before half-time.
So poor in the first half, Juventus showed more far desire and drive after the interval. They nearly equalised when Argentine forward Dybala fired over after sloppy Tottenham defending gifted him a sight of goal.
It was a warning Tottenham failed to heed and the visitors drew level in the 64th minute with their first effort on target.
Stephan Lichtsteiner crossed to Sami Khedira and when he flicked towards Higuain, the Argentine striker perfectly timed his run past the statuesque Spurs defence and slotted home with ease.
Tottenham were anxious and Juventus went for the kill three minutes later. Higuain’s pass dissected Tottenham’s poorly-executed offside trap and Dybala ran through to drill a cool finish past Hugh Lloris.
Tottenham laid siege to the Juventus goal in the final stages, but the visitors defended heroically and rode their luck when Kane’s header hit a post before being scooped off the line by Barzagli. AFP