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UCL: Son steers Spurs to victory, VAR and Asensio snatch win for Madrid

UCL: Son steers Spurs to victory, VAR and Asensio snatch win for Madrid

London: Tottenham took a huge step towards reaching the Champions League quarter-finals as Son Heung-min inspired their 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 first leg.

Mauricio Pochettino's side had been under the cosh as Dortmund dominated the first half at Wembley on Wednesday, but Hugo Lloris kept them level with a series of fine saves.

That set the stage for a sublime second half from Tottenham, who were sparked into life by a fine finish from South Korea forward Son.

Son's fourth goal in his last four appearances took him to 16 for the season, but none have been as priceless as this one.

Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen capped his own powerful performance when he swept in their second goal in the closing stages and substitute Fernando Llorente's late third put the seal on a remarkable result.

Although Tottenham still have to survive the second leg at Signal Iduna Park on March 5, they have a golden opportunity to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2011.

It was an especially impressive success for Pochettino given he was without the injured Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Danny Rose and Ben Davies.

Pochettino devised a clever game-plan that eventually frustrated Dortmund and secured Tottenham's first ever Champions League knockout-round win at home.

With Rose and Davies sidelined, Pochettino deployed centre-back Vertonghen out of position at left wing-back and switched to a three-man defence that stifled the Bundesliga leaders.

Pochettino had insisted Tottenham would be able to ignore the draining effects of a gruelling schedule which he felt left them at a "massive disadvantage".

And his passionate talk of seeing the "energy" in his players' eyes as they looked forward to a big Champions League night proved prescient as they worked tirelessly to leave Dortmund helpless to stem the tide.

Lucas Moura gave Tottenham an early spark when he latched onto Davinson Sanchez's header and smashed a volley just wide from the edge of the area.

Juan Foyth gifted Dortmund their first sight of goal when he dwelt on the ball too long and was alertly dispossessed by Christian Pulisic.

But Lloris spared Foyth's blushes as he blocked Pulisic's shot at the near post.

Dortmund's rapier attacks were led by Jadon Sancho, who left Manchester City to join Dortmund in 2017 without ever playing for the Premier League team.

Just two years later, the 18-year-old winger made his first appearance back on home soil now established as an England international rated as one of Europe's hottest prospects.

Sancho hit top gear on several occasions in a mesmerising first-half display, leaving two Tottenham midfielders for dead and linking with Pulisic, whose shot was blocked at the last minute.

It took Tottenham over half an hour before they finally forced 'keeper Roman Burki into action after Son wriggled through the visitors' defence.

Lloris made a superb save to deny Dortmund on the stroke of half-time as Dan-Axel Zagadou met Sancho's cross with a header that the Tottenham captain clawed out at full stretch.

Despite being pushed back for much of the first half, Tottenham had refused to surrender and their perseverance was rewarded in the 47th minute.

When Vertonghen swung over a cross from the left, Dortmund's defence were out of position for the first time all night and Son timed his run perfectly behind Zagadou to caress a fine volley past Burki.

Suddenly, Tottenham had all the momentum and Vertonghen rampaged forward to fire over.

Dortmund had no answers to Tottenham's high-tempo pressing and it was Vertonghen who was the hosts' unlikely hero in the 83rd minute as he volleyed home from Serge Aurier's cross.

Tottenham were rampant and Llorente completed a memorable night when he glanced a close-range header past Burki from Christian Eriksen's corner three minutes later.

Whereas in Amsterdam, Real Madrid needed a late winner from Marco Asensio and VAR's debut in the Champions League to beat a spirited Ajax 2-1 in the first leg of the last 16.

Ajax have not beaten Madrid in 24 years and thought they were on their way at the Johan Cruyff Arena when Nicolas Tagliafico headed home after a Thibaut Courtois error.

But referee Damir Skomina judged Dusan Tadic to be offside upon review and Madrid showed no pity on their youthful opponents, Karim Benzema and Asensio scoring two precious away goals in the second half.

Hakim Ziyech's equaliser at least keeps Ajax in touch heading into the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu but Asensio's 87th-minute winner was a sucker-punch in a match the Dutch team had largely dominated.

Their ruled out opener will only add to the sense of what might have been and it was no surprise to see a cluster of red and white shirts surrounding the officials at the final whistle.

VAR has been introduced to the Champions League for the first time in this year's knock-out stages and leaflets were distributed to the media before kick-off, one of the points explaining how reviews should only be for "clear and obvious mistakes".

UEFA later tweeted Ajax's goal was "correctly overturned for offside" but Tadic's intervention on Courtois was minimal and it seemed generous to deem it enough for a call to be reversed.

"We can't see the replay," Madrid coach Santiago Solari said.

"We have to be confident in what the referees say."

"I saw it," said Ajax's Erik ten Hag.

"In my opinion it was not offside and I don't see it as a foul on the goalkeeper either."

Still, there was more than an hour to play and Ajax were twice too easily undone on the counter-attack. Frenkie de Jong, who will join Barcelona in the summer, and Matthijs de Ligt, who could follow him, were each dealt a lesson in the ruthlessness of top European football.

It was put to Solari afterwards that Ajax had deserved more.

"That is your opinion -- we had to work, to suffer, to create," he said.

"You have to survive the pressure sometimes. These things are part of the game too."

Gareth Bale was reinstated to the Madrid starting line-up but there was no place for Marcelo, who missed his first Champions League knock-out game in four years.

Ajax fans had put on an impressive display of fireworks late on Tuesday night outside the Spanish team's hotel and perhaps it paid off because a drowsy Madrid were run ragged in the first half.

Tadic had the first chance as Sergio Reguilon's poor pass was headed into his path, a sliced finish beating Courtois' right hand but not the post.

The best opportunity fell to the excellent Donny van de Beek, after the ball was shifted along the line like a rugby move until the midfielder was left spare six yards out. Courtois saved with his legs.

Hero one minute, villain the next, Courtois then fumbled De Ligt's header from the corner and Tagliafico headed in. There was no protest from Courtois but Skomina pointed to his earpiece. Tadic, who had brushed past the Belgian as the header looped in, was ruled offside.

The crowd jeered at half-time and Benzema compounded their misery soon after. It was a goal to sum up Madrid's resurgence in recent weeks as Luka Modric flicked a ball for Vinicius Junior to race after. He tore past one, jinked inside two more and teed up Benzema, who found the top corner.

Ajax refused to fade. David Neres and Tadic both went close before Neres skipped free down the left and crossed for Ziyech to slide in the equaliser. Madrid wanted a free-kick for a foul on Lucas Vazquez in the build-up but this time the goal stood.

A draw might have appeased the home fans but they were denied even that as a slick move through midfield freed Dani Carvajal down the right. His curving cross found Asensio, who could not miss.


PTI

PTI

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