Inter Milan 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1
Another game, another set-piece concession for Tottenham and another morale-shuddering defeat, which will only intensify the questions about the team’s mentality.
After the loss at Watford and the one against Liverpool in the back-to-back defeats that shadowed Spurs to Milan, this breakdown cut them to the core. A draw might not have been the worst result in the world and that was what Tottenham looked to have within their grasp as a slow-burning tie entered stoppage time.
Mauricio Pochettino had made two defensive-minded substitutions but his players could not close out a result. When Miranda headed back a corner into the danger area, Matias Vecino got in front of Harry Winks, one of the Pochettino changes, to loop a header into the far corner.
Cue Inter delirium. They had already pinched themselves minutes earlier when Mauro Icardi chose some moment to score his first goal of the season. What a goal it was. Addressing Kwadwo Asamoah's floated cut-back, he exploded a right-footed volley beyond Michel Vorm from the fringes of the penalty area.
At full time, Pochettino wore a beleaguered expression and some of his players crumpled to the ground. This was supposed to be the night when they stopped the recent rot. Instead, there was only heartbreak.
Christian Eriksen will say that he made his own luck in the 53rd minute but when it came, it looked to be transformative for Tottenham. Up until that point, it had been a disjointed performance from Pochettino's players, marked by some pondering in defence and a missed chance from Harry Kane that he will feel he ought to have taken.
Eriksen fired the upturn, stepping away from two Inter players and banging in a sweet shot that Samir Handanovic beat clear. Érik Lamela got a toe to the loose ball and that was when fortune favoured Eriksen. He unloaded once more for goal and it spun off Miranda to loop over Handanovic.
Tottenham belatedly began to play with a bit of purpose but they would be humbled at the very death. With Barcelona lying in wait in Group B, the significance of this result was lost on nobody. Rather abruptly, Spurs have it all to do.
It had been easy to feel the friendly ghosts of Tottenham's recent past at this iconic venue, chiefly the Gareth Bale game against Inter in the 2010-11 Champions League and the subsequent victory over Milan in the last 16. Even the 4-1 loss in the 2012-13 Europa League last 16 against Inter had contained the extra-time goal that carried them through.
Pochettino was unconcerned at what had gone before; only by the attitude and aptitude that his players could show as they sought to put the troubles of the past couple of domestic matches behind them.
The manager had said that his defenders had been “scared” to play out from the back in the home defeat against Liverpool on Saturday but he believes that it is the only way for his team to construct their game. Doggedly, those in white shirts carried out the order and moments of discomfort followed.
Inter knew what was coming – who doesn’t? – and they sprinted forward en masse to press and harry them. It felt as though Spurs were playing with fire. They were frequently asked to thread high-difficulty passes, with the movement ahead of the ball static, and it was inevitable that there would be breakdowns.
The effect was to invite Inter on; they were able to get their tails up in the early going and the home support responded. It feels wrong to want an English team to be more direct but the urge was there.
It has been some time since Inter heard the Champions League aria. Their previous appearance in the competition had been in 2011-12 and, having qualified in dramatic style on the final day of last season, their fans were determined to create a fierce atmosphere. One of the great things about San Siro is how the steeply banked stands keep the noise in. It was spine-tingling at times.
The first half was low on quality, with Inter unable to profit when they won the ball high up the pitch. Vorm had to dive and punch clear following a flick off Davison Sánchez but he was not truly extended.
The big chance – the only real chance before the interval – fell to Kane on 37 minutes. Eriksen’s floated pass was made to measure and Kane’s first touch was true. Unnerved, perhaps, by Handanovic’s charge from his line, Kane chose not to shoot, rather attempt to take it round the goalkeeper. He did not have the room to do so. His touch was marginally too heavy; it had needed to be perfect, and he ran into the by-line.
Tottenham started the second half with more energy, with Kane dropping off from his spot up front but Eriksen’s goal had scarcely been advertised. When he is in the team, there is always the possibility of a flash of quality and the travelling supporters could delight in this moment.
Tottenham came to look more proactive, more polished, with Serge Aurier marauding forward from right back. He teed up Lamela, who worked Handanovic and, when the ball came out, Kane was offside. Pochettino's introduction of Lucas Moura also made a difference. His pace worried a tiring Inter backline and, twice, he created openings for Lamela. Handanovic saved.
Inter had seen Ivan Perisic work Vorm but Tottenham looked to have all three points in the bag going into the final five minutes. How wrong that feeling would prove. - Guardian service
INTER MILAN: Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Miranda, Asamoah; Vecino, Brozovic; Politano (Balde, 72 mins), Nainggolan (Valero, 89 mins), Perisic (Candreva 64 mins); Icardi. Booked: Skriniar, Perisic.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR: Vorm; Aurier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Davies; Dembele, Dier, Eriksen; Lamela (Winks, 72 mins); Kane (Rose, 89 mins), Son (Lucas Moura, 63 mins). Booked: Sanchez, Vertonghen,Vorm.
Referee: Clement Turpin (France).