When it was finally all over last night, Jose Mourinho found an excuse to linger on the pitch long enough that he was still there when Gareth Bale had at last made his way over from the far side to the tunnel. Nothing without a reason – it might be the motto of Mourinho and he made sure that the shy Welshman could not escape his handshake and murmured compliment.
If Bale is still at Tottenham next season, rather than somewhere like Real Madrid, then it will represent real progress at a club who have traditionally sold their best players. Last night demonstrated more than ever that if Spurs are to play in the Champions League consistently – and to compete with the best teams in it – then they will have to improve by some distance on their two performances against Real.
The Champions League adventures of Harry Redknapp and Co. have been a refreshing contrast to the normal humdrum of the competition, especially in the group stages. But in the quarter-finals they hit a wall, and they did so because of fundamental errors when the pressure was really on.
If it was Peter Crouch's red card at the Bernabeu last week that put Spurs on the back foot, then last night it was a howler from goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes that ended what faint hope they might have had of rescuing this tie.
The Brazilian goalkeeper has been outstanding at times in this Champions League run, not least in the home leg against Milan in the previous round, but last night he was back to his bad old habits. He turned an innocuous shot from Cristiano Ronaldo five minutes after half-time into the Real man's 40th goal of the season by virtually tossing it into his own net.
Despite that, the Spurs team were still applauded off the pitch at the end by an exuberant home support. There are not many teams who have experienced that at home after a 5-0 aggregate defeat. For a team in their first year in the competition a quarter-final defeat to Real Madrid, even one this heavy, does not feel too bad.
As you would expect of the most expensively assembled team in the history of the game, this is some Real side. Whether they will be good enough to beat Barcelona in the semi-finals is another question. But last night they never looked close to blowing this tie. They dealt with everything that Tottenham threw at them and, although their goal was a fluke, were not undeserving winners.
Real were immaculately organised, especially in defence where they controlled Bale as well as could be expected and shut out Roman Pavlyuchenko, in for the suspended Peter Crouch. The booking for Ricardo Carvalho means that he will miss the first game against Barcelona at the Bernabeu, although Pepe will return from suspension.
In all, Mourinho's team will now play four times against Barcelona before the end of the season – twice in the Champions League, once in the league and again in the cup – which means that Mourinho has some stressful days ahead.
Above all, Spurs needed an early goal and the longer they went without one, the more settled Real became and the increasingly unlikely it was that they might pull off this miraculous football comeback that no-one, least of all Redknapp himself, really thought was feasible.
Redknapp's team had three appeals for penalties in the first half, only one of which had true merit. That was when Xabi Alonso clipped Luka Modric as he shaped to take a shot on six minutes. It was, as Redknapp said afterwards, a penalty but he was not in the mood to kick up a fuss. If anything, the Italian referee might have had been affected by a dive by Bale two minutes earlier.
Cutting in from the left Bale had thrown himself over when Alonso stuck out a foot in his direction. Bale is a marvellous player but it was a crass thing to do. In the same category, but not quite as bad, was Pavlyuchenko launching himself over after a challenge from Raul Albiol on the 27th minute.
Spurs have built their reputation in the Champions League this season as the enemies of cynical football. Last night was not the time to start damaging that. They missed the presence of Crouch in attack where there was nobody to put pressure on Real's central defenders in the way that the Englishman does, and accordingly less space for Rafael van der Vaart.
Only once did Spurs really get behind Real, in the 26th minute when Aaron Lennon was played in beyond Alvaro Arbeloa. The England winger composed himself sufficiently to cut the ball back to Pavlyuchenko on the edge of the area but his shot was weak and well over.
With the game goalless at half-time Mourinho had all-but done his job. Gomes completed it for him five minutes into the second half. Ronaldo hit a dipping, speculative effort that should cause no trouble for a goalkeeper with the ability to concentrate and move his hands to the ball. Unfortunately, Gomes managed neither. He let the ball through his hands, over his shoulder and, as it dribbled into the net, lunged far too late to give himself the chance to scoop it off the line.
What little hope remained went then. Redknapp replaced Lennon with Jermain Defoe and he forced a decent save on 63 minutes from Iker Casillas.
As for Ronaldo, he may be a primadonna at times but he does have a sense of humour. When he came to the touchline for treatment shortly after his goal with one of those theatrical scowls on his face, he was greeted by a section of the home crowd making an uncomplimentary hand gesture at him. In response Ronaldo mimicked it and followed with a smile and a friendly wink.
When Ronaldo finally came off he was replaced by Kaka. Redknapp could only stand and admire the resources that are at Mourinho's disposal – and hope that next season they do not include a certain Welshman as well.
The draw for the semi-finals of the Champions League (7.45pm kick off):
Tuesday 26 April Schalke v Manchester United
Wednesday 27 April Real Madrid v Barcelona
Tuesday 3 May Barcelona v Real Madrid
Wednesday 4 May Manchester United v Schalke
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