Tottenham Hotspur took a big stride towards the Champions League knockout phase after forcing European champions Real Madrid to fight back for a draw in Spain.
Spurs led when Harry Kane’s clever run made Madrid defender Raphael Varane divert Serge Aurier’s right-wing cross into his own net.
The Spanish champions equalised before half-time when Aurier’s rash challenge on Toni Kroos was punished with a penalty, Cristiano Ronaldo drilling in to extend his tally as the leading scorer in Champions League history.
The home side increased urgency immediately after the break as Spurs were pinned back, away keeper Hugo Lloris producing stunning acrobatic saves to deny Karim Benzema and Ronaldo.
However, Spurs grew back into the contest and Kane – who has been linked with a move to the Santiago Bernabeu this week – almost scored a winner for the Premier League side.
The England striker found himself clean through on goal with 20 minutes left, but was denied by a superb fingertip save from keeper Keylor Navas.
The result moved Tottenham ahead of 12-time European champions Madrid at the top of Group H at the halfway stage, having now scored more away goals than their opponents.
Significantly, the English side’s hopes of reaching the last 16 for only the second time were strengthened by Apoel Nicosia’s 1-1 home draw against Borussia Dortmund.
Tottenham are six points clear of 2013 finalists Dortmund and Cypriot side Apoel, who have both already lost to Spurs and remain winless.
Spurs show Real maturity
Travelling to face Europe’s most successful club in the imposing 81,000-capacity Bernabeu – where the home side had won 21 and drawn two of their previous 23 Champions League group games – has long been a daunting experience for visiting teams.
Spurs themselves suffered a hiding there in 2011, losing 4-0 in their quarter-final first leg, but returned with boss Mauricio Pochettino urging his vibrant team – last season’s Premier League runners-up – to prove they could compete with Europe’s elite.
They did exactly that in a disciplined display.
Spurs, backed by almost 4,000 supporters in the Spanish capital, had been given further optimism of a positive result by Madrid’s patchy home form.
Zinedine Zidane’s side have only won one of their four La Liga home matches this season, struggling to find a way through teams who sit back and defend deep.
Pochettino said before kick-off it was important for his team “to be brave”, illustrated by the Argentine’s surprising decision to start Spain striker Fernando Llorente up front alongside talisman Harry Kane for the first time.
At times the visitors had to defend in numbers – only to be expected against a side containing so much quality – and had the moments of luck needed by any team who leave the Bernabeu with anything.
But they also wisely chose their moments to attack their illustrious hosts, showing a maturity perhaps not seen by their supporters in recent European campaigns.
A point was no less than they deserved and will give them further confidence before the rematch at Wembley in a fortnight.
“A point at Bernabeu, you would take that every day of the week,” Kane said. “It shows how far we have come as a team.”
Did Kane pass his Bernabeu ‘audition’?
Much of the pre-match chat had centred around Harry Kane amid reports that Real Madrid are eyeing a move for the prolific England striker.
Some English newspapers claimed this week the Spanish giants are willing to pay £150m for the 24-year-old, while Real manager Zinedine Zidane did little to dampen the rumours by describing him as a “complete player”.
Kane has scored 43 goals in 38 games for club and country in 2017, earning himself a nomination for the Ballon d’Or – the prestigious prize given to the world’s best player – for the first time.
Does that make him good enough to play for Europe’s most successful club? Some believed this would serve as an audition for Kane in front of the demanding Bernabeu crowd.
Kane thought he had scored when he rose highest to thump a header goalwards from Christian Eriksen’s first-half corner and again when he latched on to Llorente’s pass after the break.
However, Costa Rican keeper Navas’ quick reactions denied him on both occasions.
Nevertheless, his all-round performance – finding space in dangerous areas, strong running and fearless play – would have only impressed any potential suitors.
And his stock was only boosted by Madrid striker Karim Benzema dragging a shot wide with the goal gaping and missing the target with another simple header.
“Would Harry Kane make Real Madrid a better team? I think he would,” former England defender Danny Mills said on BBC Radio 5 live. “Benzema missed two chances in the first half – Kane would have scored them.”
Man of the match – Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)
‘We showed we could compete with the best’ – what they said
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino: “I am very happy because we competed. That was our challenge before the game.
“We showed ourselves that we can compete with Real Madrid and that is very good for us.
“I’m very happy. The point was fantastic. It puts us in a very good situation in the group.”
Madrid extended their unbeaten run – the stats
- Real Madrid are unbeaten in their last 30 Champions League group stage matches, winning 22 and drawing eight
- The Spanish club have failed to score only once in their last 53 Champions League group stage games
- Cristiano Ronaldo made his 143rd Champions League appearance in this match; moving him to outright third in the all-time rankings behind Iker Casillas (166) and Xavi (151)
- Ronaldo has now scored 10 Champions League goals against English clubs (in 13 appearances) – only Lionel Messi (17) has scored more
- Ronaldo has scored in each of his three previous Champions League games against Tottenham (three goals)
- Real midfielder Toni Kroos misplaced just one of his 88 passes (99% accuracy) in this match
Third-placed Tottenham return to Premier League action when they host Liverpool at Wembley on Sunday (16:00 BST).
Real Madrid, who trail La Liga leaders Barcelona by five points, also play on Sunday when they host struggling Eibar (19:45 BST).