Tottenham achieved their objective at White Hart Lane by winning their final Group match against Panathinaikos by 3 – 1 to qualify for the knock-out stages of the competition. Having taken a first half lead through Emmanuel Adebayor, Spurs suffered a second half stutter as the visitors came back to equalise but two goals in the final 14 minutes ensured European football at the Lane in the new year.
Tottenham Hotspur 3 Panathinaikos 1
Scorers: Adebayor, Karnezis, Defoe Zeca
Team: Friedel; Walker, Caulker, Vertonghen, Naughton; Lennon (Livermore), Sandro, Carroll (Dembele), Dempsey (Sigurdsson); Adebayor, Defoe Subs: (unused) Cudicini, Huddlestone, Townsend, Stewart
As he has done all season, Andre Villas-Boas selected a strong Tottenham team in the knowledge that they needed at least a point to ensure their progression in the competition. Brad Friedel returned in goal and captained the side which had Steven Caulker and Jan Vertonghen in central defence with Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton at full-back. Tom Carroll started in central midfield with Sandro, Aaron Lennon and Clint Dempsey while Emmanuel Adebayor returned to partner Jermain Defoe having missed the last three Premier League games through suspension.
Panathinaikos made an early surge towards the Tottenham area but Walker chested the deep cross back to Friedel to clear the danger. The pattern then developed of Tottenham being comfortable on the ball, constantly probing to find a way through the visitor’s defence which waited patiently for a misplaced pass to enable them to counter-attack. In spite of their possession, Spurs posed little serious threat to the Panathinaikos defence with their first opportunity to strike at goal coming after 16 minutes following a foul on Dempsey. From the edge of the area, Walker’s free-kick hit the base of the wall and was cleared with ease.
Spurs early play lacked rhythm and accuracy through misunderstandings and passes going astray. This allowed the Greek team to counter which they did with pace but without over committing themselves even though they knew that they had to beat Spurs to qualify. Tom Carroll worked hard in midfield and looked to spread the play but not always with the accuracy he would have wanted. A cross by Sandro was taken by the goalkeeper as Caulker challenged and then after a good run, Dempsey tried to find Defoe but the ball went behind the Spurs’ striker.
On 21 minutes, Panathinaikos had the first clear scoring opportunity from a clever free-kick played round the defence to Toche who got a touch but Friedel saved comfortably. Dempsey then shot over from 30 yards as the two strikers struggled to have an impact through lack of service. Friedel had to be alert and was quickly off his line to gather the ball at the edge of his area but Spurs finally created a chance for Adebayor when Dempsey running from midfield played him into the area after 28 minutes to beat the goalkeeper.
Two minutes later, Friedel reacted quickly to punch the ball clear at the edge of the box as Panathinaikos broke. The ball then reached Adebayor on the break but Defoe was offside as he played the ball back for Dempsey to shoot over. Spurs managed a good passing move between Dempsey, Adebayor and Lennon which provided the ball for Sandro who shot over.
Panathinaikos tried to get forward but were restricted to shooting from distance and then Lennon caused them difficulties as he tried to link with Defoe. First, a cross was headed down by a defender but Defoe shot over and after a break from defence his cross towards the striker was cleared for a corner. In the final minutes before the interval, a good one – two between Adebayor and Carroll saw the striker’s shot blocked for a corner and then Vertonghen’s header from Walker’s corner was deflected out for another corner.
Tottenham had controlled the half with the majority of possession and shots at goal but they were still only a goal ahead and with the Greek team needing a win, they would have to show more attacking ideas after the interval.
Spurs started the second half positively with a run and cross from Lennon but Panathinaikos responded with a shot from distance which Friedel collected easily. Then Dempsey played Defoe into the area but his shot hit the post and bounced to safety. The visitors were looking to play further forward and their more positive approach nearly paid off when they attacked on the right but the Spurs defence, under pressure, managed to clear but when the ball was played back in from the right to the far post, Zeca got ahead of Naughton to head strongly past Friedel.
Encouraged by their success, Panathinaikos went looking for a second and Tottenham for the first time started to look a little uncertain. The visitors had much more possession and were much quicker to the ball while the Spurs’ threat going forward was non-existent. With twenty minutes to go a cross into the Spurs box caused confusion when a Naughton clearance hit his own player and fell to Toche but his shot went past the post with Friedel rooted to the spot. A few minutes later Vertonghen headed a dangerous cross out as Spurs hopes of qualification looked to be hanging by a thread.
Mousa Dembele replaced Carroll on 73 minutes and then two minutes later Sandro won a free-kick on the right side of the area after a powerful run. From Walker’s free-kick, Dempsey headed his cross against the bar, it bounced down and off the goalkeeper’s back and into the net. Dempsey ran off to celebrate his first White Hart Lane ‘goal’ but it was credited as an own goal by Karnezis.
The goal calmed the Tottenham nerves and seven minutes later, Defoe scored after a run by Lennon played him into the area enabling him to lift the ball over the goalkeeper. It was Defoe’s 13th goal of the season and his 131st for Tottenham. The goals took the sting out of the visitors’ threat and Spurs saw out time as Walker went on a run into the area. He looked up and saw Defoe but the striker couldn’t get a shot in as Walker played the ball back to him.
Spurs qualified as runners-up in Group J, any chances of finishing top disappearing with Lazio’s 4 – 1 success in Slovenia. Tottenham miss out on being a ‘seeded’ team in the draw which takes place in a fortnight and so will be at home in the first leg of the knock-out stage of the competition which has some very high profile teams.
Having taken the lead, Tottenham failed to capitalise on their advantage, allowing Panathinaikos back into the game but in the end won through and achieved their ‘goal’ for the evening. Andre Villas-Boas was pleased with the result but admitted to anxiety after Panathinaikos drew level. In his post-match interview he said,
“The problem was 1-0 wasn’t enough. They had the determination and motivation to get a result. But we played really well and had opportunities. We felt a little bit of anxiety but managed to get the result which was fair.”