Pochettino hails Spurs’ ‘mission impossible’
Tottenham manager pleased to reach last 16 after nightmare start in a group with two giants
Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino said his side completed "mission impossible" in the Champions League after they recovered from a nightmare start to qualify for the knockout stages with yesterday morning's (Singapore time) 1-1 draw at Barcelona.
Spurs were beaten 2-1 by Inter Milan in their first game, lost 4-2 to Barcelona in their second and threw away the lead to draw 2-2 at PSV Eindhoven in their third to leave them with only one point at the halfway stage of the group.
Narrow home wins over the Dutch side and the Italians gave them a chance of going through, but their plight again looked bleak when Ousmane Dembele's sensational individual goal put them on the back foot in the decisive game at the Nou Camp.
Yet Spurs seized their place in the next round thanks to Lucas Moura's 85th-minute equaliser, sneaking above Inter, who could only draw 1-1 at home to PSV, due to a better head-to-head record.
"I'm so happy, so proud. I remember that after PSV no one believed in us, it was mission impossible, but we are here, we're in the next round," Pochettino said.
"It's a massive achievement for the club, we're happy for the fans here and around the world, it's a massive boost for the club and to be able to play in the knockout rounds next year in the new stadium is a massive motivation for us."
Tottenham's hopes of staying in Europe's elite competition looked doomed when news filtered through of Mauro Icardi's leveller for Inter.
Pochettino, 46, said he and his players were caught in two minds about whether to try to hold on for the draw or seek a winner in case Inter got another goal in their game.
"It was difficult to manage the last 10 minutes. The players knew the result (score) of Inter, but it is difficult to translate what to do to the field," he said.
"You have to score to win but if you concede and lose the game, maybe you talk in a different way afterwards."
The former Espanyol coach also said reaching the last 16 from a group containing two giants of the competition was among his greatest achievements with Spurs since taking over the club in 2014.
"I always believed it was possible to win the game," Pochettino said.
"We fully deserved to go through with Barcelona. We were the best (two) teams in a difficult group.
"It was so difficult to manage everything inside, but we made a fantastic effort. To see and celebrate with everyone after 4½ years was great, it was the first time I felt something really special.
"The connection is amazing, but we need to be clever about how we manage that energy tonight."
Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris also pitched in and said his side deserved to qualify for the Champions League last 16.
"We did not win, but we went through and that's the most important thing. The spirit was fantastic. We deserve it," Lloris told BT Sport.
"We had the help of PSV it's true, it was difficult after the early goal but we stuck with our principles and played a very good performance."
Striker Harry Kane praised his side's patience against the La Liga champions who had left five-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi on the bench.
"We had quite a few chances, it just wasn't going in but we carried on and got the goal back. We still carried on trying to score more," Kane said. - AFP, REUTERS