The Wembley hoodoo struck again. Borussia Dortmund simply cannot get things to go their way at the home of English football. For long spells during this Champions League thriller, they weaved their patterns and stretched Tottenham Hotspur to breaking point.
Mauricio Pochettino’s team did not crack. Harry Kane did not crack. And Spurs rode their luck, with Dortmund complaining that Kane’s goal for 2-1 should not have stood because of a foul on Nuri Sahin and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang seeing what would have been an equaliser for 2-2 wrongly ruled out for offside.
Tottenham did not care and in the end it was a triumph not only for Kane, who bullied the Dortmund defence and ran himself to a standstill, but also for the team’s patience and belief. They refused to wilt in the face of a slick performance from the visitors and finished the stronger. Above all, they showed a ruthless streak. It was an unusually reactive performance from them but they hit Dortmund hard when it mattered.
In a group in which Real Madrid are the hot favourites, it could boil down to a head-to-head between Tottenham and Dortmund. What a tonic this was for the north London club. Son Heung-min had put them in front and after Andriy Yarmolenko’s lovely equaliser, Kane bent the contest to the force of his will.
It was Dortmund’s second visit to Wembley; their first had been the Champions League final defeat by Bayern Munich in 2013. And they were beaten on the hour when Kane ran on to Christian Eriksen’s pass to shoot low and unerringly past the erratic Roman Bürki.
From that moment they knew that this season’s Wembley jinx was about to end. Under Pochettino, they had previously won only one of eight matches here. Coincidence or not, it had become a thing. Not any more. Not when they have beaten a team of Dortmund’s class.
Tottenham could relax and enjoy themselves in the final quarter, especially after Hugo Lloris had made a reflex save to deny Aubameyang in the 70th minute. The only blot came in stoppage-time when Jan Vertonghen, already booked for a foul on Yarmolenko, received a second yellow card after he flung back an arm and caught the substitute Mario Götze. The contact looked accidental and light but how Götze milked it. Vertonghen will miss the trip to Apoel Nicosia.
It had been difficult to overstate the importance of this game, although Pochettino had tried, describing it as the “most important one for us”, as a “final”. Nobody at the club wanted a repeat of the opening group game from last season when they lost here to Monaco and, to quote Pochettino, struggled to “change the dynamic” thereafter. Spurs were out after five games. The possibilities now seem tantalising. “This is massive, massive,” the manager said. “It’s more than three points because it’s Wembley and it’s the perception that will be changed for our future.”
Tottenham drew first blood with a glorious team goal which had started with an important interception from Davinson Sánchez deep inside his own half. He moved the ball up to Son, who nodded down for Eriksen and he fed Kane. Son continued his run, Kane found him and Tottenham felt their hearts quicken. Son put a move on Sokratis Papastathopoulos, skated around him and although the angle at the near post was tight, he smashed his shot high and hard past Bürki.
Dortmund did not panic. They enjoyed the soothing tonic of possession and they probed intelligently, making inroads up the flanks. They made their extra man in midfield count and even though the equaliser came quickly, it had been signposted. Yarmolenko drifted in off the right, swapped passes with Shinji Kagawa and curled a beauty with his left foot into the far, top corner.
Dortmund brought the control and the finesse in the first half. Sahin looked as if he was playing with his own ball while Kagawa was a snapshot in menace. It was a mystery how they trailed at the interval, having repeatedly stretched Tottenham’s backline. There was a last-ditch quality to some of their defending, which was epitomised when Vertonghen snaked out a long leg on 31 minutes and got a toe to Christian Pulisic’s low cross, touching it out of the path of Aubameyang. Pulisic was also inches from getting on the end of an Aubameyang cross and had a goal disallowed for offside.
Kane’s first goal seemed like the counterpoint to Dortmund’s sophistication. He seemed to hurl Papastathopoulos and Sahin out of the way before stepping away from Omer Toprak and curling his finish past Bürki.
Once again the goalkeeper was beaten at his near post, which is never a good look, but Kane had surely fouled Sahin.
Tottenham had chances at the start of the second half through Kane and Son but the game turned when Aubameyang’s goal in the 56th minute was chalked off. It was a glorious first-time, half-volley finish from Sahin’s floated cross and even in real time, he looked onside. The replays were grisly for the assistant referee. Kane promptly twisted the knife. The night belonged to him and his team.TG