FIORENTINA 2 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0
(Fiorentina won 3-1 on aggregate)
TOTTENHAM boss Mauricio Pochettino pointed the finger at goal-shy striker Roberto Soldado after the Spaniard failed to convert a gilt-edged opportunity as error-strewn Spurs slumped out of the Europa League following defeat to Fiorentina last night.
Soldado fluffed his lines in the opening period and Spurs were made to pay for his profligacy as former Bayern Munich forward Mario Gomez and Chelsea loanee Mohamed Salah sealed victory to send the Italian side into the last 16.
Despite giving Spurs the lead in the first leg, Soldado has consistently failed to live up to billing since his £26m move from Valencia, where he scored 76 goals in 110 games, in 2013 and has only found the net five times in all competitions this season.
“It is true that it was key, this action,” said Pochettino of Soldado’s chance. “We are all disappointed, the player too.
“We did not score and if we want to analyse the game, it is easy. Fiorentina scored, we didn’t score and in football if you don’t score it is difficult to win games.”
Pochettino also insisted he had no regrets in choosing the misfiring Soldado ahead of 24-goal top scorer Harry Kane, while also resting midfielder Ryan Mason, with Sunday’s Capital One Cup final against Chelsea weighing heavily on his mind.
“There is no regret. It is my job, it is my decision. We analyse and try to pick the best team for every game,” he added.
“We are in a busy period and when you have a strong squad, you need to give the opportunity to play to all. It is not about selection it is about performance.”
Salah proved an early threat for Serie A outfit Fiorentina, who entered the clash boasting a 10-match unbeaten record, but it was Soldado who wasted a glorious chance to net the all-important away goal shortly before the half hour mark.
The 29-year-old sprung the offside trap and latched onto Erik Lamela’s clever delayed pass, only to attempt a square pass to Nacer Chadli rather than fire goalwards while clean through, allowing Fiorentina keeper Murara Neto to claim easily.
Where Soldado failed, Gomez succeeded as Fiorentina took the lead on 54 minutes. Centre half Federico Fazio surrendered possession cheaply, paving the way for the German to race onto Milan Badelj’s incisive pass and slot clinically past Hugo Lloris.
In some ways Tottenham’s task was unchanged with the White Hart Lane club still needing at least one goal to have a chance of progression, but were indebted to Lloris for denying Salah from point-blank range after he linked with Joaquin.
Fiorentina sealed their passage to the last 16 in the 71st minute as Salah again took advantage of hesitant defending. Jan Vertonghen was the culprit this time, dallying on the ball and allowing the Egyptian to thump past Lloris.