It was an excellent night for the English Premier League as Liverpool and Spurs joined both Manchester clubs in the knockout stages of the Champions League much to the chagrin of Napoli and Inter Milan.
Inter Milan’s first Champions League campaign since 2011-12 melted like an ice cube in the gob of the Queen of Dragons after the 5/11 shots failed to beat the 8/1 shots PSV Eindhoven in front of an expectant San Siro.
The math was as simple as a poor man’s funeral.
Inter and Spurs went into their final games of the group stage knowing that both sides needed to end the night with a better result than the other to join Barcelona in the knockout stages. A stalemate from both games would see Spurs go through courtesy of the away goal that Christian Eriksen scored in that September defeat.
Inter began with the ruthlessness of a serial killer ambling through an amputation and came close to grabbing the early lead when Ivan Perisic smacked the post with a close-range header.
But that’s not the way Inter does things in the Champions League.
In the Italians’ previous five group matches Luciano Spalleti’s team had to come from behind, and it would prove to be a consistency that would follow them to the bitter end when with their first attack, PSV grabbed the opener thanks to a far post header from Hirving Lozano.
Inter battered PSV from that point on, firing 22-attempts on goal compared to only five from the Dutch side, and eventually, one of them went in when Inter’s Captain Marvel Mauro Icardi, headed home a Matteo Politano cross, but try as they might, they couldn’t find a winner.
Barcelona 1 v 1 Spurs
Inter’s failure to beat PSV at home was as surprising as Spurs’ draw at the Nou Camp. Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs side are brilliant when at their best, but are still a fair distance from where Barcelona sits in the pecking order of world football.
Very few teams go to the Nou Camp and come away with anything other than an ego filled with bumps and bruises, and yet on this night – the all-important night – Spurs didn’t just get the point, they dominated the game.
Rewind 90-minutes and Spurs got off to the worse possible start when Ousmane Dembélé robbed Kyle Walker-Peters on the halfway line before going on a mesmerising run, beating everyone in his path before calmly putting the ball away.
Son Heung-min should have equalised for the visitors only for Jasper Cillessen to save with his feet, and at the other end, Philippe Coutinho turned on a sixpence, drove into the penalty area, and side-footed the ball wide with Hugo Lloris looking like a scarecrow stranded in the middle of the goal.
In the second half, Spurs assumed control.
Eriksen saw his left-foot curler saved by Cillessen, and had Lucas Moura not closed his eyes at the vital moment, and met the ball with his head, instead of his shoulder, Spurs could have equalised a lot sooner.
Coutinho gave Spurs another shot in the arm when he smashed the post with a cracking right-foot drive.
Then came the goal.
With 85-minutes on the clock, Captain Kane found space down the left, Moura sprinted away from his marker to find space in the box, and as the entire Barcelona backline dived at the feet of Kane, the Spurs striker found Moura, who finished from close range prompting Mauricio Pochettino to call the feat Mission Impossible.
Group B Table
1. Barcelona – 14 (Q)
2. Spurs – 8 (Q)
3. Inter – 8
4. PSV – 2
Liverpool and PSG Emerge From Group C
Liverpool, PSG and Napoli went into their final ties all harbouring hope of making the knockout stages, with the smart money on PSG (1/25) and Liverpool (4/5) to be the two names chucked into a hat in a UEFA office somewhere.
PSG was the overwhelming favourite to beat Red Star Belgrade and didn’t mess about, ramming four down the throats of the Serbians thanks to goals from Edinson Cavani, Neymar, Marquinos and Kylian Mbappé.
That result made it a clear-cut knockout match between Liverpool and Napoli, with the English Premier League (EPL) leaders holding home court advantage.
The earliest chance of the match went to Napoli when a Dries Mertens cut back found Marek Hamšík only for the Slovakian to blast it over the bar, but it was Liverpool who went into the half-time break with the lead thanks to the EPL’s top scorer.
There were 34-minutes on the wristwatch when Mohamed Salah managed to shrug off the intentions of the man-mountain that is Kalidou Koulibaly. The Egyptian dropped the shoulder to leave a second defender for dead before eyeballing a pass to Sadio Mané that seemed to throw Daniel Ospina, and Salah sneaked one in at the near post.
Liverpool had chance after chance to bury the game in the second half with Sané the biggest culprit missing three easy opportunities, and Jürgen Klopp’s side was nearly made to pay when in stoppage time Arkadiusz Milik found himself alone, eight yards from goal, only for Allison to pull off a Champions League knockout stage saving save.
“If I knew he was this good, I would have paid double,” said Klopp after the match.
Liverpool go through despite losing all three of their away games.
Here are the final group standings:
1. PSG – 11 (Q)
2. Liverpool – 9 (Q)
3. Napoli – 9
4. Red Star Belgrade – 4
And here are the other two groups.
1. Dortmund – 13 (Q)
2. Atlético Madrid – 13 (Q)
3. Club Brugge – 6
4. Monaco – 1
1. Porto (16 (Q)
2. Schalke 04 – 11 (Q)
3. Galatasary – 4
4. Lokomotive Moscow – 3
Results in Full
Schalke 04 1 v 0 Lokomotive Moscow
Galatasary 2 v 3 Porto
Club Brugge 0 v 0 Atlético Madrid
Inter Milan 1 v 1 PSV Eindhoven
Barcelona 1 v 1 Spurs
Red Star Belgrade 1 v 4 PSG
Monaco 0 v 2 Dortmund
Liverpool 1 v 0 Napoli
Champions League Winning Odds
Man City – 7/2
Barcelona – 5/1