Tottenham Hotspur made hard work of their penultimate Europa League Group Stage encounter on Thursday, but after a first half chockfull of wasted possession, they managed to find the offense they needed after the restart to secure first place in their bracket ahead of next month’s trip to Anzhi Makhachkala.
Recent snowfall in northern Norway had complicated conditions at Alfheim Stadion, and both prior to the match and during the interval, the artificial pitch had to be plowed. In the early going, at least, it was the home side that seemed to deal better with the surface.
Not even a minute had elapsed when Zdenek Ondrasek beat the offside trap for a clear effort on goal, but despite the opening, he could only skim his shot wide of the far post.
From there, Spurs got into their passing routine, and just prior to the quarter-hour a corner-kick flicked on by Roberto Soldado quite nearly found Etienne Capoue at the far post.
The guests would enjoy nearly 70 per cent possession during the opening frame, but other than a decent shot from Gylfi Sigurdsson in the 18th minute and near miss from Nacer Chadli in the 38th, they managed precious little in the way of meaningful scoring chances during the opening period.
After the restart, they threatened to implode.
Visibly frustrated, each of Michael Dawson, Capoue and Soldado went into the book for lazy challenges before the hour-mark, and it was from all but nothing that they found themselves ahead just three minutes later.
Sigurdsson, who was Tottenham’s best attacker on the day, earned a free-kick deep in the attacking third and to the left of the Tromso. While Vlad Chiriches got a foot on the ball, as it was played into the box, it turned out to be Adnan Cauevic who was charged with an own goal as the ball flew past Benny Lekstrom.
Twelve minutes later, Mousa Dembele iced it for the tourists.
Lewis Holtby, who had come on for the disappointing Chadli, found Sigurdsson with an accurate pass, and the Iceland international slid a delightful through-ball to the on-rushing Dembele, who stroked it into the back of the net for the two-goal cushion.
Spurs had little trouble closing down the match from there, and at the final whistle, they had ensured first-place in Group K.
90 [+03] - FT: That's it, all over - Tromso IL 0-2 Spurs, and we'll go through to the KO stage of the Europa League as group winners.— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) November 28, 2013
Key Player Grades
Roberto Soldado: C
It was thought a 90-minute run-out against Tromso would help restore his confidence, but the Spain international failed to take a single shot over the course of the match—nevermind placing one on target—and completed just 55 per cent of his passes. (Statistics courtesy WhoScored.com)
Gylfi Sigurdsson: A-
Only Dembele came close to matching Sigurdsson’s contributions on Thursday. The 24-year-old picked up an assist on Spurs’ second goal, earned the free-kick that led to the first, completed 92 per cent of his passes and also committed himself on the defensive side of the ball, executing four tackles.
Thomas Bendiksen: B+
The Tromso captain caused two yellow cards for Spurs on Thursday and was generally his side’s best midfielder over the 76 minutes he played.
Tromso were out of the competition before they played this match while Spurs needed the victory to ensure top spot in the bracket. Tromso will wind up their European campaign on December 12 at Sheriff Tiraspol, and Spurs will host Anzhi Makhachkala that same day.