Home sports Mathieu Valbuena penalty crowns Olympiakos recovery to deny Spurs

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Mathieu Valbuena penalty crowns Olympiakos recovery to deny Spurs

by ace
Olympiakos vs Tottenham

Tottenham returned to the point where they stopped last season, where Champions League drama came as a pattern and seemed to have an addiction to doing things the hard way.

After half an hour at the Athenian port of Piraeus, they enjoyed twice what the visiting teams here crave – the brief sound of silence. First penalty kick Harry Kane, and then Lucas Moura, with a rocket from afar, cut off the turmoil caused by Olympiakos tough guys to put Spurs in charge.

The leadership flattered Mauricio Pochettino's team and that they could not preserve against a lively Olympiakos performance and a wall of noise from the stands. Spurs have entered hostile environments over the past five years under Pochettino, but in terms of decibel levels, none of that. From start to finish, there was a frenzy inside this single-layer bowl, where the sound spins and drops.

Daniel Podence, the most attractive player on display, injured Spurs with an excellent finish just before half-time and Pochettino's team would give in to concede at the start of the second period. As passions grew in Spurs' third defensive, Jan Vertonghen slipped past Mathieu Valbuena's back – an awkward and unnecessary foul. It seemed that the thorny heat of the moment had overwhelmed him. Valbuena rose to defeat her friend Hugo Lloris.

The idea, from Spurs' point of view, was that they would make a bold statement on the opening night of this Champions League group and avoid the recovery game that has defined their progress over the past 16 seasons. It is sometimes forgotten that the Spurs only qualified and reached the final – which they lost to Liverpool – after Internazionale did not beat PSV Eindhoven in San Siro on the final night of their group games.

This was not the worst result given that Olympiakos is a true European force in its territory but it was a substandard performance, hampered by lack of aggression and intensity. Pochettino complained that his players did not respect his game plan and certainly they gave Olympiakos plenty of space, especially in the first half.

It's never good to lose a two-goal lead and everyone at Spurs is aware that Bayern Munich and Red Star Belgrade are yet to come. Club fans should buckle up for another wild ride.

Pochettino wanted to fight the fire with his 4-2-3-1 starting system, in which Christian Eriksen pressed close to Kane; to take the game to Olympiakos. It was not planned from the outset and there was a vision of the manager gesturing angrily in his technical area when the hosts broke at 18 minutes. They came within inches of assuming what would be a deserved advantage.

Kostas Tsimikas easily jumped into Harry Winks to cross and Podence kicked at Miguel Ángel Guerrero. The forward's low kick beat Lloris only to return to the far post and, on rebound, William dropped over the crossbar.

Olympiakos drew the melody to the first quarter, with Podence heading into the right wing and it was hard to remember Tottenham entering the third third. They lacked control. And yet, in what seemed like a snap, everything changed.

Lucas Moura puts Spurs up 2-0 when a long-range shot hits Olympiakos goalkeeper José Sá. Photo: Thanassis Stavrakis / AP

Kane passed Yassine Meriah as he attacked the right side of the area, kicked it and in real time it was hard to see what drove him to the ground. Referee Gianluca Rocchi saw him and his decision to point to the venue would be justified by replays. Meriah panicked and stretched one leg back, tripping over Kane. The attacker coldly scored his penalty in the middle and the ceiling of the net.

The Olympiakos were staggering and caught the second part of the suction cup combination punch moments later. Ben Davies, in his first start of the season, advanced to win the ball in the middle of Olympiakos and, when fed Moura, the Brazilian sizzled an uncontrollable pass by José Sá.

How the Spurs needed to reach the break 2-0. They could not do that. Giorgos Masouras made a volley after 34 minutes, but Olympiakos were rewarded for football with the front foot, when Podence exchanged passes with Valbuena, entered the area and kicked low to the opposite corner. The pace and accuracy of the exchanges were many for Spurs' defense.

Visitors needed to show composure, but at the first sign of pressure around their area in the second half, they cracked. They failed to clarify their lines and it was Vertonghen who stood very close to Valbuena's back, stepping on his foot to send him.

The game turned into an end-to-end power struggle and the Spurs had a chance to beat it when they ended up as the strongest team. Dele Alli, who had an offside goal in the 49th minute, had a break to break just for Sá to hit the post, while substitute Érik Lamela also worked on the goalkeeper. The Spurs deserved no more than the goal.

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