Barcelona 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1
Tottenham knew what they had to do at one of the cathedrals of European football but, at the same time, they knew that their Champions League fate might be decided elsewhere – over in Milan, where Inter took on PSV Eindhoven.
It added up to an evening of knife-edge of drama, undercut by a strange kind of helplessness, as they trailed to Ousmane Dembélé's seventh-minute goal for Barcelona, which was a personal disaster for Spurs' full Champions League debutant, Kyle Walker-Peters. Mauricio Pochettino's team needed to match Inter's result to progress and, despite being kept abreast of events at the San Siro, their focus was to overcome what was, effectively, a Barcelona B team. Lionel Messi was used only as a substitute.
The permutations lurched when Inter equalised for 1-1 but Spurs pressed on to the front foot throughout an impressive second-half performance, carrying the fight to Barcelona.
The chances came and the chances went, with Jasper Cillessen making several saves, none better than the one from the substitute, Lucas Moura, on 75 minutes. Spurs needed something; they deserved something and they got it when Harry Kane crossed and Lucas finished from close-range. When the draw in Milan was confirmed Spurs completed what had been dubbed "mission impossible".
The tone of the evening had been shaped by the release of the Barcelona teamsheet. The predictions had been for major changes but not to this extent. Messi had been 50-50 to be included, with the Spanish press expecting to see him in the starting XI. When he was named among the substitutes, Tottenham’s hopes had surged.
Pochettino was actually laughing in his pre-match TV interview. There was no Marc-André ter Stegen; no Gerard Piqué; no Jordi Alba; no Sergio Busquets; no Arturo Vidal and no Luis Suárez. But without Messi, and despite the obvious quality in many of the replacements, Barcelona felt beatable. It was not difficult to imagine the indignation at Inter but Ernesto Valverde had earned the right to do whatever he pleased; to blood Juan Miranda, the 18-year-old left back, and Carles Aleñá, the 20-year-old midfielder, at Champions League level.
Pochettino started with Dele Alli behind Harry Kane and Son Heung-min in an attacking formation but his boldest selection had been that of Walker-Peters. Pochettino's hand had been forced by the injuries to Kieran Trippier and Serge Aurier.
Poor Walker-Peters. It was horrible to see how he disintegrated for the early goal; how he took a heavy touch just inside the Barcelona half, after a Spurs free-kick had been cleared and the ball headed back to him by Moussa Sissoko; how he was robbed by Dembélé and then brutally exposed by the forward's searing pace.
The covering Harry Winks, who made a couple of first-half errors, threw himself into an all-or-nothing block only for Dembélé to step inside him and shoot low past Hugo Lloris. It was a finish of consummate class by a player who had been in the headlines for the wrong reasons after he reported two hours late for training on Sunday.
When Dembélé faced up Walker-Peters on halfway, the pitch suddenly looked like a big and scary place for the youngster. The France forward’s running style is so smooth that he appears to float over the turf. Walker-Peters, by contrast, was tied in knots. He would be booked shortly afterwards for a pull on Miranda. His chin was on the floor.
Spurs stabilised towards the midway point of the first half and they started to make promising inroads up the inside-left channel, although they struggled for their usual intensity before the interval.
Son's pace and directness was a threat and, when Danny Rose crossed low from the left on the half-hour, he strained every sinew in front of goal but could not get a touch.
Moments later, Son had a big chance. Following Christian Eriksen's ball forward, Thomas Vermaelen stretched into a slide challenge and did not get there. Son had only Jasper Cillessen to beat but the goalkeeper blocked. The half ended with Philippe Coutinho stepping away from Winks and sidefooting against the outside of the far post but Spurs would have been cheered to hear that PSV were in front against Inter.
It was one of those weird occasions when the result of a game in another country came to cast an increasingly lengthy shadow. While PSV led, the result here was rendered meaningless. For long spells, the atmosphere was rather flat, despite the efforts of the travelling fans to drive their team.
Spurs pushed in the second half and Barcelona’s unfamiliar back four really did look vulnerable. With Eriksen probing and good movement ahead of him, the visitors found gaps and chances. He drew a flying save out of Cillessen, Kane shot wildly after outstripping Clement Lenglet and Son also worked the goalkeeper.
Pochettino swapped Walker-Peters, who did block bravely from Coutinho on 54 minutes, for Érik Lamela and moved Sissoko to right-back while there was a great ovation when Messi entered just after the hour. – Guardian service