TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 FIORENTINA 1
TOTTENHAM manager Mauricio Pochettino last night admitted his disappointment after his side’s failure to beat Fiorentina left them needing to win the return leg in Italy to keep their European aspirations alive.
Goal-shy striker Roberto Soldado’s superb early volley appeared to set Spurs up for victory but defender Jose Maria Basanta’s scrappy equaliser hauled the visitors level and Pochettino’s men rarely threatened thereafter.
The hosts’ failure to convert further early chances means they need either a win or an improbable high-scoring draw in Florence next week to reach the Europa League last 16.
“It’s a shame and my feeling is a little bit disappointed because we deserved more but I’m happy with the performance,” said Pochettino.
“It’s true that the round is open and we have to go to Florence and try to win the game. Today we were better than Fiorentina, especially in the first half, we created a lot of chances, but this is football. We need to go to Florence and try to score and win the game.”
Pochettino defended his decision to start 23-goal top scorer Harry Kane on the bench in a selection just short of full strength, with a fixture pile-up in mind.
“We have ahead a lot of games -- potentially 10 games in 30 days -- and it's difficult,” he added. “We need to rotate and give everyone the possibility to play, but it’s not a big problem to select the starting XI for tonight or the next game.”
Lone striker Soldado wasted no time in seizing his chance to lead the line, meeting a Paulinho corner from the right with a sweet, low first-time volley after just six minutes.
For only his fifth goal in 30 games this season it was a confident finish, though his next effort, an overhead kick, was even more audacious, albeit held by goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu.
The goal dimmed Spurs’ urgency and Fiorentina, who arrived unbeaten in eight games, grew bolder, with target man Mario Gomez and Chelsea loanee Mohamed Salah probing.
It was still a surprise when they equalised on 36 minutes, after their first serious effort on target. That was a fierce free-kick by Matias Fernandez, whose shot from the tightest of angles was beaten away at his near post by Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, only for Basanta to scuff the loose ball over the line from close range.
Tottenham were inches away from regaining the lead just before half-time, but Nacer Chadli’s improvised outside-of-the-boot follow up, after Tatarusanu had parried a Soldado header, hit the underside of the bar.
Spurs chased a winner after half-time but to little effect. Pochettino threw on Kane and Erik Lamela, yet Paulinho went closest with a shot that Tatarusanu repelled with his head.