Dembele proves Bale isn't Spurs' only saviour

Posted by Dan Fitch

With a couple of minutes to go Thursday, I was readying myself to write an obituary of Tottenham's 2013 Europa League campaign.

I was going to say that while I was disappointed, there was no point mourning the loss. There were advantages to going out of the Europa League. Spurs could now focus on qualifying for next season's Champions League, without the distraction of constant Thursday night fixtures.

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Then, just as I was reaching for the laptop, Mousa Dembele dropped a shoulder just outside the area and smashed the ball home. Tottenham were through, 1-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate against Lyon. Forget about the boring league, there's tickets to Milan to be booked!

I'm a big boxing fan, and one of the reasons that I love the sport is that it can all change with one knockout punch. This was the football equivalent.

It was a classic European tie. By that I don’t mean that it will live in the memory of anyone beyond Spurs fans (Lyon supporters will no doubt be trying their best to forget it).

No, I mean classic in the sense of it was a perfect example of how the two-legged away goal rule can have an influence upon a tie. With Lyon having scored at White Hart Lane and then an early goal at home Thursday to lead on away goals, the die was cast for the rest of the game.

Lyon sat back and were willing to soak up Tottenham's pressure. They were good at it. It wasn’t pretty, but the French side made it very difficult for Spurs to create a chance, as they kept up the pressure on whoever had possession.

Tottenham made little impression in the first half. It was perhaps no surprise that Gareth Bale was the solution to that problem in the second.

Bale switched to the centre, with Lewis Holtby moving to the left. Within minutes Emmanuel Adebayor played a brilliant cross from the right, which found Bale unmarked in the centre. He had time to control the ball and the confidence to hit it on the volley.

The effort was painfully close and would have been another superb goal from Bale, had it gone a foot inside the post instead of a foot outside. Indeed, it was close enough that I celebrated the ‘goal’ as it hit the side netting.

Bale went close again from a free kick and a long-range effort. It looked as if anyone was going to win the game for Spurs, it would again be the Welsh international.

Instead, it was Dembele who proved that Bale isn’t Tottenham’s only match-winner. I’d love to see the Belgian get into those sort of positions more often. I can see a scenario next season where Andre Villas-Boas implements his favoured 4-3-3 system and that hope might become a reality.

Dembele’s goal might have snatched victory at the death, but that’s not to say that it was undeserved. To use another boxing analogy, Spurs were the aggressors. If it had ended at 2-2 then Tottenham would have lost on away goals, but they would have deserved the victory on points.

Now it’s Inter Milan. The San Siro was the scene of Bale’s emergence on the world stage and he returns there as a genuine star.

As I said when this draw was made, it is possible to get excited about the Europa League if you get the right draw. That doesn’t mean the easiest game possible. It means the likes of Lyon and Inter Milan. It's those sort of games that produce Glory, Glory nights as we saw Thursday.

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