Gonzalo Higuain scored one of the goals that sent Juventus through to the Champions League quarterfinals ahead of Tottenham and assisted on the other. (Getty)
It all came crashing down in two minutes and 50 seconds. Two minutes and 50 seconds that ran counter to everything else three hours of soccer between Tottenham and Juventus had told us. Two minutes and 50 seconds that decided a gripping Champions League round of 16 tie. Two minutes and 50 seconds that will be the source of thousands of London nightmares.
In two minutes and 50 seconds Wednesday night at Wembley, goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala turned Juventus’ 3-2 aggregate deficit into a 4-3 lead, and took the Old Lady through to the quarterfinals. They were stunning and memorable and gut-wrenching all at the same time.
Tottenham had been cruising, ahead on the night and over the two legs on Son Heung-Min’s first-half goal. Hugo Lloris hadn’t had a save to make all night. In the first half, Spurs had completed 54 of their 77 attacking-third passes; Juventus had completed just 11 of its 27.
But Higuain popped up to grab Juve a lifeline in the 64th minute:
Spurs were still ahead on away goals, but well aware they were in for a nerve-wracking 26 minutes.
Before fans could even begin to gnaw on fingernails, though, Tottenham’s defense fell asleep again. Higuain played Dybala in alone, and the Argentine playmaker beat Lloris with ease:
Spurs pushed and pressed for an equalizer that would have sent the game to extra time, but it simply would not come. Harry Kane – who had rounded Gianluigi Buffon in the first half only to find the side of the net – hit the post with a header in the waning minutes. Juve defenders and midfielders threw any and all body parts in front of shots. Giorgio Chiellini was immense. And Dybala’s goal held up as the winner.
In a way, then, the tie ended as it began, with coinciding flurries, of class from one side and of sloppiness from the other.
In between, there had been little doubt which side was superior. And had superiority been enough for victory, it would have stood as an emblem of Spurs’ rise. The Premier League could have boasted as well, its sixth-richest club bossing Italy’s most historic, valuable and successful. Its sixth-richest club scoring three goals over 180 minutes while Juventus’ last 17 Italian opponents had only managed one over 1,530 minutes.
But Spurs had gone down 2-0 in the opening 10 minutes of the first leg, and needed a Herculean effort to take an advantageous 2-2 scoreline back home. They had stayed on top in the second leg, and all signs pointed to progression to the quarterfinals.
But a takedown of last year’s Champions League finalists required 180 minutes, not 170. It required technical and tactical quality, which Tottenham had, but also unbending concentration, which it didn’t.
Juventus manager Max Allegri changed the game with a second-half tweak, throwing on two wing-backs, and throwing Spurs out of whack. Allegri’s Argentine forwards then pounced on Tottenham’s lapses. And just like that, the game and the tie had been flipped on their heads. Just like that, a European campaign on its way toward the Spurs history books fizzled out, leaving behind only rueful thoughts of what might have been.
Other Champions League results
Manchester City lost at home for the first time in over a year, 2-1 to Basel, but cruised through to the quarterfinals, 5-2 on aggregate.
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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.