Kane goal in vain as Spurs throw away 2-0 lead at Olympiacos
Athens is known as the city of ruins and just when Tottenham appeared to have built a solid foundation here, their propensity for selfdestruction surfaced again.
Spurs never seem to do it the easy way in the Champions League group stage and here was another excruciating evening for Mauricio Pochettino on his 50th game for the club in European competition.
Pochettino accused his players of failing to show the required “intensity” after they threw away a twogoal lead for the second time in 17 days, following their 2-2 draw with Arsenal last month.
In a scary repeat of that dramatic afternoon at the Emirates, Spurs had appeared in total control after scoring two goals against the run of play but spectacularly collapsed, like a crumbling old temple, to ensure Olympiacos secured a deserved point in Piraeus.
“When we don’t show that intensity the competition demands we struggle,” Pochettino said.
“We are not talking about the quality of players, we are talking about focus, concentration, anticipation. How many times did we anticipate the action? How many times were we not productive like we were against Palace [who Spurs beat 4-0 on Saturday]?
“It’s not about tactics or quality players, but the level of fight, you need to match the opponent in aggressivity, excitement, motivation. That is the first demand, you need to work. It’s not only the responsibility of one person, it’s the responsibility of everyone. I feel very disappointed but, to be honest, I wasn’t happy with our first-half performance. From the beginning we had a plan and we didn’t respect it. This season we are conceding too many chances and goals and we need to change the way.”
Maybe Pochettino should have expected such a chaotic encounter on his return to Europe. Last season’s journey to the showpiece final was memorable and exhilarating, with those remarkable victories over Manchester City and Ajax in the knockout stages.
But rewind to the start of their campaign and at one point it looked like they were on the brink of an early exit from the group.
After losing their first two games against Inter and Barcelona, Pochettino required a rescue mission on the final match day in the Nou Camp, so there was pressure on Spurs here in the Greek capital to make a statement.
A point against the rank outsiders in Group B represents a pretty underwhelming start, with Dele Alli – making his first start of the season – and Christian Eriksen particularly poor on the night.
Harry Kane, who put Spurs ahead from the spot, said: “We wanted to get off to a winning start and put ourselves in a great position. Last season we didn’t play too well and had to play catchup. We’ve definitely got resilience in the squad to do that, it’s only the first game and we’re definitely backing ourselves to get through but we’ve got a lot of improving to do.”
Is it ever simple with Spurs? Olympiacos have returned to the Champions League group stage after a two-year absence and were resilient opponents, with the noise in the Karaiskakis Stadium deafening and hostile.
Daniel Podence, the winger, produced an outstanding display and was at the heart of all their best moments, toying with Ben Davies for much of the evening.
Olympiacos, now unbeaten in 19 games in all competitions, had started impressively and missed a glorious chance in the 18th minute.
Kostas Tsimikas sent a teasing cross into the area and Podence chested down to Miguel Angel Guerrero, whose low shot across goal came back off a post. As Spurs failed to clear, midfielder Guilherme drove over the crossbar.
Spurs had been disjointed and laboured going forward, but took the lead out of nowhere after 26 minutes. Kane, running on to a pass from Alli, was brought down by Yassine Meriah and, after a video assistant referee check, the Spurs striker clipped the penalty past Jose Sa. Olympiacos were still reflecting on wasting their early superiority when, four minutes later, Lucas Moura powered a brilliant 25-yard shot into the top corner. It was another moment of individual genius from the Brazilian.
Spurs should have been in control, but inexplicably switched off one minute before half-time.
In a fine move down the right, Podence exchanged passes with Mathieu Valbuena and advanced into the area to drill a low shot across Hugo Lloris into the corner.
The tide was turning, despite an Alli goal being ruled out for offside, and Spurs then relinquished their grip seven minutes into the second half.
Jan Vertonghen caught Valbuena and Gianluca Rocchi, the referee, awarded his second penalty of the night. Valbuena made no mistake and the decibel levels were rising.
Alli capitalised on a fortuitous deflection to test Sa with an angled shot. But with Podence continuing to impress on the flank, Olympiacos will rue the dropped points.
For Spurs, bigger tests lie ahead: Bayern Munich at home is up next.
On target: Harry Kane scores Tottenham’s opening goal from the penalty spot in the 26th minute of last night’s group tie