Dnipro 1 Tottenham 0 match report: Roberto Soldado misses sitter as Spurs go down in display matching sombre backdrop to Europa League tie
Late penalty gives Ukrainian side victory in first leg on night dominated by political violence which has devastated the capital Kiev
The dnipro arena
Friday 21 February 2014
It was a night dominated by events far more important than the match itself. Dnipropetrovsk is six hours’ drive away from Kiev, roughly 400 kilometres south-east of the war-torn capital. The political violence which has devastated Kiev has not yet stretched here. That is why, ultimately, Uefa allowed this game to continue as planned, while Dynamo Kiev’s Europa League match against Valencia was moved to Cyprus.
But Dnipropetrovsk, this old industrial city, has been deeply affected by the traumatic events in Kiev, and understandably so. An official day of mourning was declared in Ukraine, and many supporters refused to attend the match. The Dnipro Arena was barely half full, with a crowd of 15,000 or so, including roughly 100 Spurs fans.
Some sporting events in Ukraine were cancelled, and alpine skier Bogdana Matsotska withdrew from the Winter Olympics in Sochi in protest against president Viktor Yanukovych. Although this game took place, the 22 players wore black armbands and there was a minute of silence beforehand, during which a vocal minority of home fans defiantly sang the Ukrainian national anthem instead.
Despite everything that happened, the Dnipro players attacked Spurs with impressive focus, creating the best of the opportunities in a first half that suffered from the poor pitch. This was Dnipro's first competitive match after two months off for the Ukrainian winter break and the surface never looked ready. Dnipro did, though, and they deserved their eventual 1-0 win even if they must have wondered whether they would ever score.
While Yevhen Konoplyanka, who scored the only goal from the penalty spot with nine minutes to go, is Dnipro's most exciting player, it was veteran Brazilian striker Matheus, the man with a white boot on his right foot and black on his left, who was their most dangerous man throughout, winning the decisive penalty.
Matheus should have put Dnipro ahead after 25 minutes, running onto a perfect through ball from midfield, which Jan Vertonghen failed to read, only to shoot straight at the on-rushing Brad Friedel. This was Friedel's first game for more than two months, but he looked sharp enough, again denying Matheus, who nearly won a penalty only for the referee to decide that he had exaggerated his dive.
Spurs did not have very much threat of their own, with new attacking talisman Emmanuel Adebayor left back in London. Roberto Soldado was leading the line on his own, something he had not done since the Andre Villas-Boas era. Their best first-half chance came when Soldado dropped back and played a through ball to Paulinho, who was brought down by Ivan Strinic on the edge of the box. Andros Townsend took the free-kick but bent it wide.
Dnipro continued to press Tottenham in the second half, looking like they had the freshness of a team who had spent January in a training camp in Marbella. Roman Zozulya, who must have been frustrated at not winning a penalty from Danny Rose in the first half, tried even harder to win one from Friedel but the referee, again, did not award it.
Sensing that they needed a lead if they were to reach the last-16, Juande Ramos, the former Spurs manager now with Dnipro, threw more men forward. This naturally left more space for Tottenham who should have gone ahead 10 minutes into the second half. Kyle Naughton slid the ball through to Paulinho, bursting into the box, and his low cross found Soldado unmarked and with an open goal from five yards out. Somehow the striker put the ball over the bar.
"He would expect to score," manager Tim Sherwood said of Soldado's chance. "I haven't seen it again but I'm not sure he will be too complimentary about the pitch. I am sure that it must have played some part in Robbie missing that one.
"The pitch was a disgrace, it is no excuse as both teams had to play on it but it is possibly the worst pitch I have experienced in a long time."
The miss was to cost Tottenham when Dnipro finally got the penalty, and the goal, that had been coming. Matheus broke from halfway, exchanging passes with Zozulya and accelerating away from Rose. Vertonghen stretched to tackle, but could only trip him up. Konoplyanka took the penalty and scored off the inside of the post.
Spurs tried to find an away goal, Nacer Chadli failing to convert a near-post flick from Harry Kane. But Dnipro came closer to scoring, Friedel denying Artem Fedetskiy and Zozulya heading a corner against the post.
Man of the match Matheus.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee A M Lahoz (Sp).
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