Champions League: Experience of 'the Old Lady' Ends Tottenham's European Dream

As the clocks of Wembley stadium's giant screens ticked toward full-time, the Juventus following in the corner of the ground bounced in unison. Their team had done it again. For two-and-a-half hours of this tie, they had seemed too old and too slow for Tottenham. But Juventus proved there's life in the Old Lady yet.

Just when Tottenham thought they had this game and tie under control, 1-0 ahead after an hour through another Son Heung-min goal and heading into the quarter-final of the Champions League, Juventus flipped the game upside down in just seven minutes. Mauricio Pochettino had warned of the danger Gonzalo Higuaín posed and he showed why— scoring and then assisting for Paulo Dybala to send Juventus into the final eight and Tottenham out.

Dybala, absent from the first leg due to a hamstring injury, can often be found playing chess at Juventus’ training ground in Turin. When the 24-year-old Argentine raced through on goal in the 67th minute and finished cooly over Hugo Lloris it was checkmate to Juventus. The knight of this team had slipped straight through the Tottenham defense and the kings of Italian football were heading through.

As always, Tottenham was impressive and the result was cruel. Juventus dominated this game for little over 10 minutes but that was all they needed. This was English youth against Italian experience, and the latter succeeded. Indeed, seven of Massimiliano Allegri’s starting line-up featured in last season’s final and had a combined total of 614 appearances in this competition, compared to the 188 of Pochettino’s. But there was a fine balance to be found. The average age of the Juventus team was five years older than Tottenham’s at 30.

Paulo Dybala Paulo Dybala at Wembley Stadium, London, on March 7. GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty

From the start, it was clear the energy of Pochettino’s team was causing problems for Allegri’s defense. Giorgio Chiellini, the 33-year-old World Cup-winning Italian defender, had to be on his best form up against England’s best product in recent years. Harry Kane’s ever-growing reputation across the continent clearly injected panic into the veins of Chiellini, a man usually so cool. For in the 14th minute, the Italian scrambled as Kane received the ball in the penalty area and turned, seeing Chiellini tumble to the ground and hit the ball with his hand. Szymon Marciniak, the Polish referee, was unmoved.

If Tottenham had been due a spot-kick then they were fortunate to escape seeing one go against them just three minutes later. Douglas Costa, operating from the right for Juventus and causing the most trouble for the Tottenham defense, drove into the area and went over under Jan Vertonghen’s lunge. Contact appeared to be clear but, again, Marciniak was unmoved. As was the assistant referee behind the Tottenham goal, stood just five yards away from the incident. The yellow shirts of the Juventus players swarmed around Marciniak, demanding a spot-kick.

Half-an-hour later, at half-time, seven of them surrounded Marciniak once again as he made his way to the tunnel, demanding an explanation. They were understandably aggrieved, but by then they were already 1-0 down and heading out of the competition.

Tottenham’s goal was well-worked. Dele Alli had made another burst into the Juventus penalty area and, just as he was about to strike the ball, Andrea Barzagli denied him with a thunderous challenge. But by the time the 36-year-old defender had risen to his feet, the ball was in the back of the net. Kieran Trippier had returned it to the back post and Son scuffed it past Gianluigi Buffon to deny the 40-year-old goalkeeper his 50th clean sheet in this competition.

As Son scampered away in celebration, arms raised, the Italians were down. Barzagli was bent double, hands on knees. Medhi Benatia, too. Sami Khedira’s hands were on his hips. Juventus was the exhausted old lady asked to babysit a handful of sugar-filled toddlers, and they just couldn’t cope.

Allegri looked like he needed more than 15 minutes with his team, he needed a time capsule. The second half began in much the same fashion so the Italian coach saw the need to change. He brought on Kwado Asamoah for Blaise Matuidi and Stephan Lichtseiner for Medhi Benatia, and the impact was instant.

Within seven minutes, Juventus had not only equalized but taken the lead. Gonzalo Higuain escaped the attention of Christian Eriksen and Eric Dier to turn in Lichtsteiner’s cross. In Juventus’ next attack they had the lead.

Higuaín dropped deep to collect the ball. He swiveled and played a ball through the center of the defense for Dybala to run onto, clear through on goal. The Italian support behind the goal willed the 24-year-old on and he finished cooly over Lloris.

It was now Tottenham’s turn to push, with Erik Lamela thrown on for Dier. Another comeback was required from Pochettino’s team, after coming from 2-0 down to draw in the first leg, and with 13 minutes remaining, they thought it had arrived.

Davies, running onto a cross-field pass from Eriksen, hit the ball first time across the six-yard box toward the waiting Kane. For the 80,000 home fans in attendance, this was the script that had now been rewritten. But then came Chiellini, sliding through and intercepting the ball. Buffon grabbed his countryman by the shoulders and roared in his face. This was a defender’s goal.

Still, Tottenham pushed for the equalizer. A shot from Eriksen was deflected wide and then Son driven effort flew past Buffon’s post. Pochettino made his last move, bringing on Fernando Llorente for Alli.

There would be one final chance for the hosts. Kane rose high above Chiellini to meet Davies’ cross, sending it back across goal. Time seemed to stop as Buffon scrambled across his line. The ball bounced, hit the post and lingered on the line before being booted clear. Tottenham will have to wait another year.