Borussia Dortmund 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2
When the time comes to pull the names out of the hat at Uefa headquarters next month, none of the second-placed teams will want to draw Tottenham Hotspur. There is no longer evidence of any inferiority complex when they rub shoulders with Europe’s elite and they will fancy themselves against anyone after winning Group H – at the expense of the mighty Real Madrid, no less – with a game to spare after this mature, resilient victory away to Borussia Dortmund.
Their reward is a relaxing evening when they host Apoel Nicosia at Wembley next month and, more importantly, playing the second leg of their last-16 tie at home. Behind to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's fine goal, Tottenham rallied in the second half to end Dortmund's slim hopes of snatching second from Madrid, with Harry Kane scoring his sixth goal in five games, Son Heung-min applying a super finishing touch and Dele Alli producing an unselfish display. For Dortmund, exiting the Champions League was tough to take. Peter Bosz's beleaguered side visit Madrid, who destroyed Apoel, in their final match and are not even sure of finishing third, but they could not complain. Tottenham were superior.
As Tottenham set off in pursuit of the result that would increase their chances of a favourable draw in the last 16, a year since defeat in Monaco brought a premature end to their interest in this competition for another campaign, it was worth taking a moment to reflect on the brutal manner in which Dortmund devoured them in the Europa League two seasons ago. Tottenham have come a long way since those days, back when they seemed to shrink in the company of the silkiest continental sides, and securing their progress from this most daunting of groups with that enchanting victory over Madrid three weeks ago meant that they began with a sense of freedom at one of European football’s most iconic venues.
However it was also a mark of Tottenham's tougher mentality that it was difficult to detect any weaknesses in their line-up, three days after the bruising experience of losing the north London derby. Mauricio Pochettino was unwilling to accept any loss of momentum, even though the stakes were lower than might have been anticipated when the groups were drawn, while he knew that Dortmund were not to be taken lightly despite the mess the Germans have made of their qualification attempts.
Two draws with Apoel meant that Dortmund’s hopes of progression were already hanging by a thread by the time news filtered through that Madrid were hammering the lowly Cypriots, and perhaps that explained the muted celebrations that greeted Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s glorious opener after 30 minutes.
The goal was a reminder of Dortmund's class, the Gabon striker drilling a low shot past Hugo Lloris after being released by a stunning flick from the impressive Andriy Yarmolenko, but it was a bittersweet moment, too. The Dortmund manager Peter Bosz, who is under intense pressure after a dreadful run that has seen them slip from the Bundesliga summit to fifth place, stayed in his seat on the bench, his expression impossible to read.
Aubameyang, who was back in the side after being dropped for disciplinary reasons at the weekend, hardly looked delighted, even though the striker was a constant thorn in the side of Tottenham’s back three. The sense of what might have been hung over Dortmund.
Yarmolenko was elusive in the hole, impudently creating an early chance that Aubameyang scuffed wide, but Tottenham also enjoyed themselves at times. Pochettino made four changes from the defeat to Arsenal, bringing in Danny Rose, Serge Aurier, Harry Winks and Son Heung-min, whose movement threatened to expose Dortmund's risky high line, and Roman Burki had to make excellent saves to deny Christian Eriksen and Eric Dier before half-time.
Despite trailing, Tottenham felt confident of prising open an unconvincing defence and it did not come as a surprise when they equalised three minutes after the break. Dortmund’s self-destructive tendencies were encapsulated when Jeremy Toljan’s indecision allowed Rose to divert the ball to Dele Alli, who quickly shuffled it on to Harry Kane.
The striker had been a peripheral presence, but he bullied Dortmund at Wembley in September and his shot, aimed low to Burki’s right from 20 yards, settled Pochettino’s side. Aubameyang faded, Yarmolenko’s influence diminished and the moment Tottenham were waiting for arrived when Alli, showing great determination and skill, bustled past a series of weak challenges and into the area before finding Son, who curled a peach of a shot past Burki. – Guardian service