Good evening, boys and girls. For those of you without the joys of being able to watch it in your living rooms, it’s Spurs vs SC Braga in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup. First up, bit of history:
Spurs: Spurs have won three European trophies. Would you believe it? One more than Arsenal, as well. They like telling you that sort of thing in one half of North London. They won the Cup Winners Cup in 1963, and this very competition in 1972 and 1984 (that’s Alan Gilzean and Steve Perryman on the left, after the 1972 final against, of all people, Wolves). They’ve played most of their best football in the UEFA Cup this season and, with a 3-2 lead from the first leg, will start tonight as clear favourites, even though they’re probably worn out by Sunday’s exertions against Chelsea in the FA Cup.
SC Braga: Grrr. Braga’s nickname is “Arsenal do Minho” (“Little Arsenal”). Their coach changed their club colours to match Arsenal’s in the 1930s, because their coach was so impressed by Herbert Chapmans’ “WM” team. He also changed the name of their youth team to “Arsenal do Braga”. What a pathetic suck-up. Anyhow, they’re not one of Portugal’s biggest clubs – they’ve never won the Portuguese league, and they’ve won the cup once, in 1966. They’re currently fourth in the league, but there are eleven points between them and third placed Sporting. In this year’s UEFA Cup, they beat Chievo Verona over two legs, but only qualified through the group stages after finishing only third behind AZ Alkmaar and Sevilla.
Team News: Spurs are missing Anthony Gardner (hairline fracture to the tibula) joins Paul Robinson, Jermaine Jenas, Ledley King, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Danny Murphy on the sick table. Robbie Keane replaces Jermaine Defoe up front. Braga have no significant injury problems – keep an eye out for Joao Pinto up front, alongside Ze Carlo and Paulo Jorge.
20.15 – Kick-Off: Fortunately, Braga aren’t wearing their filthy Arsenal kit here tonight. Why not? Arsenal don’t wear theirs when they go to WHL. Spurs are in all-white. It’s a good look. I think that they wore all-white on the nights that they lifted the UEFA Cup in both 1972 and 1984. Maybe they think it’s lucky. Pascal Chimbonda is wearing gloves. It’s not that cold.
20.20: Good low cross for Robbie Keane, who gets the ball stuck under his feet and allows the chance to squirm away. It’s not quite a full house, which I find somewhat surprising. Bloody Arsenal have scored at Aston Villa in the Premiership, by the way.
20.24: Spurs have got “To Dare Is To Do” printed on the balcony separating the upper and lower sections of their stand. They should, of course, have “Audere Est Facere” up there – the original Latin phrase. Lazy. Most people are capable of grasping three words of Latin.
20.27: It’s all Spurs at the moment, but they’re lacking the final ball. Dimitar Berbatov had half a chance, but was well offside by the time the ball got to him. Robbie Keane works himself into a good position and shoots, but the ball is charged down by the defender’s arm. Should have been a penalty, but the offending arm was the wrong side of the referee, so it was kind of understandable.
20.30: Chelsea took nearly half an hour to score at Eastfields against Manchester City, and even then it was a penalty. This game, meanwhile, is still a bit flat. I can’t see how Braga can conceivably win 2-0 here tonight (which they effectively have to do to go through). Rangers are 0-0 at half-time in Spain against Osasuna. As it stands, they’d be out on away goals.
20.35: Braga are giving Spurs amazing amounts of room on the flanks. They’re not taking full advantage of it, though. The final ball is still poor.
20.39: GOAL: Tottenham 0-1 SC Braga – I was just about to say that Radek Cerny had finally got his first touch of the ball, too. A free-kick from Jose Amaral, and Huddlestone flicks the ball over the helpless goalkeeper for a ridiculous own goal. All square on aggregate and hardly a fair reflection on the pattern of the game, but they still have the advantage on away goals.
20.42: GOAL: Tottenham 1-1 SC Braga – When they get the final ball together, it all comes right. Robbie Keane holds the ball up and slides it through for Dimitar Berbatov, who rolls the ball into the corner of the net with the outside of his right foot. Seriously, this guy must be one of the best three or four players in the Premiership at the moment.
20.46: Yellow card for Berbatov, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Ways to improve football, part one: want to get rid of offsides? Yellow card for anyone caught offside more than once. Actually, that wouldn’t improve anything, would it?
20.49: They’re turning it on a bit now. Two good chances inside a minute for Spurs, the first brilliantly saved by the Braga goalkeeper, the second charged down by a defender and the goalkeeper.
20.55: Rodriguez goes off injured, clutching his leg. Substitution for Braga – Nem comes on to replace him. No, that’s not a typo.
20.57: GOAL: Tottenham 2-1 SC Braga – Berbatov again. Everything stops for a second, in the way that it does when the defence think that a striker is offside, when Keane lifts the ball over for Dimitar Berbatov who turns, chests the ball down and volleys it into the roof of the net in what looks like one movement. Magnificent finish.
Half-Time – Tottenham 2-1 SC Braga – Well, it was all about Tottenham, really. Cerny had one tame shot from outside the penalty area, and Braga scored through Tom Huddlestone’s mis-judgement, but it was all about Tottenham. Or rather, it was all about the combination play of Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov. He’s a joy to watch – I sincerely hope that he doesn’t get pulled off at half-time (though he might have a different opinion, hur hur). Back soon!
21.15: Second Half – No changes at half-time. For the record, I don’t think it’s necessary for them to rest anyone tonight. They’ve got five days break until the FA Cup match against Chelsea, and Chelsea are playing tonight as well. First chance of the half to Braga – Fernandes’ shot is deflected over for a corner.
21.20: Rangers are losing in Osasuna too, by the way. An equalizer would take it into extra-time, but they’ll be running out of time soon.
21.22: Nearly 3-1 there. Chimbonda heads across goal and narrowly wide. Braga need two goals to take this match into extra-time, by the way.
21.28: It’s all gone off the boil, a bit. Andrade fires a fairly feeble free-kick wide of Cerny’s post. I’m of the opinion that they could keep going for two or three hours tonight and Braga wouldn’t score twice.
21.31: GOAL – Tottenham 2-2 SC Braga: I’m The King of Tottenham Voodoo, me. Andrade smacks the ball into the net with a free-kick from twenty yards through a gap in the Tottenham wall created by one of his fellow attackers. Only one more for extra-time now, and they’ve got their tails up. My word. He hit that well.
21.35: It’s all Braga now. They’re up for it – quicker to the ball and hungrier. Spurs bring on Jermaine Defoe for Robbie Keane.
21.40: Chelsea and Arsenal are both still winning 1-0, by the way. I’ll happily wager that they’re both playing exquisite attacking football, and would categorically not be merely boring their opponents into submission.
21.45: Well. Two convincing shouts for penalties in the space of five seconds for Spurs. The Braga goalkeeper flaps at a corner, Berbatov goes down under a poorly-timed challenge, and with the referee still waving away his claim, stand-in captain Michael Dawson goes down as well. The tackle on Berbatov looked like a clear foul to me.
21.48: GOAL – Tottenham 3-2 SC Braga: Well, that must wrap it up this time. Berbatov again is at the centre of things, a one-touch chip to put Steed Malbranque through, and he touches the ball in from a wide angle. 6-4 on aggregate now. Golly! Braga need two goals again – if they managed it, they’d be through on away goals.
21.53: Hossam Ghaly on for Aaron Lennon. Just resting him, I think. Huddlestone has a “goal” disallowed for handball. It’s a late whistle, but a definite handball.
21.57: More interesting games than the Arsenal or Chelsea matches tonight: this one (natch), West Brom 2-3 Crystal Palace, Plymouth 2-4 Barnsley, East Stirlingshire 1-5 Arbroath, Preston Ladies 6-3 Curzon Ashton Ladies, Bristol City Reserves 9-0 Weymouth Reserves. And people still try to tell us that the Premiership is the only thing that matters. How much would you have wanted to be at any of those matches tonight?
22.00: Andrade bawoons a shot well over the crossbar from thirty yards out. Seconds later, Malbranque is booked for diving at the other end.
22.02: I’d like to just take a quick moment to say hello to the person that found themselves here through the Blogger “Next Blog” button, from a site called “Lord Of Fuck”. Meanwhile, Berbatov is through on goal in injury time, but has the ball nicked off his toe. I wonder what the “Lord Of Fuck” would have made of that?
22.06: Full-Time – Tottenham Hostpur 3-2 SC Braga: A very entertaining evening’s football, and Spurs are through 6-4 on aggregate. That’s twenty-one goals for Spurs in their last seven matches, which is exceptional by any standards. If they keep Berbatov fit, they could win this competition. Watford next for them, in the Premiership on Saturday, then Chelsea on Monday in the FA Cup. Considering that they’re missing Murphy, King and Gardner at the back, it’s perhaps unsurprising that they’re shipping goals at the back but, as they did on Saturday, they look dangerous every time they go forward, and the Berbatov/Keane partnership, when it’s firing on all cylinders, is as good as any in the Premiership, on current form. Further proof, as if it was needed, that the Premiership is fast becoming “The League That Ate European Football”.