Slipshod Spurs throw away a golden start to life in Europe

Werder Bremen 2 Tottenham Hotspur 2
Click to follow
The Independent Football

However and wherever Tottenham's challenge in the Champions League finishes – and the anthem "Spurs are on their way to Wembley" sounded a little premature about reaching the final last night – the ride will be an exciting and unpredictable one. Spurs were 6-3 winners on aggregate to qualify for the group stage, and here they threw away an early two-goal lead and with it the chance to top Group A this morning.

On a wet night in northern Germany, Werder Bremen, regular Champions League contestants, at least for the group stage, lived up to their reputation as enterprising opponents who are just as likely to concede as to score. It all made for compelling entertainment and although the London side would have settled for an away draw before the game, they will be disappointed to have finished the evening as they did.

Gareth Bale remained outstanding throughout, confirming his remarkable maturity, but Aaron Lennon disappeared in the second half and the goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini continued an unimpressive run; Rafael van der Vaart, booed for his Hamburg connection, worked hard in the first half but was withdrawn after 49 minutes with a calf strain.

Aside from individual Spurs performances, however, the key was the goal that Werder scored just before half-time, bringing new belief to the home players and the crowd. A second goal duly followed within five minutes.

"It was a perfect first 43 minutes," the Spurs manager Harry Redknapp said. "We were fantastic in the first half. Then we concede just before half-time when they're struggling to live with us, and it gives them a lifeline. I couldn't ask for any more than we did today, except a win."

It was true that, having been three goals down inside the first 28 minutes of their play-off round game against Young Boys, Tottenham could have been three to the good in the same time here. They clearly preferred the feel of damp natural grass under their feet to the artificial surface in Switzerland.

Forced to do without the spine of a team in Heurelho Gomes, Michael Dawson, Luka Modric and Jermain Defoe, Redknapp decided Van der Vaart could cope with a second start in four days, but the equally experienced William Gallas, who had also made his debut at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, was left out. As the Spurs coaches suspected, Werder brought in a second striker in the Portuguese World Cup player Hugo Almeida, but not until Marko Marin's shot was charged down after 26 minutes was there a threat to the Tottenham goal.

By that time Spurs had scored twice, adding to the discomfort of home supporters in the standing section behind that goal with no roof to protect them from the rain. Lennon and Bale had already made encouraging early incursions down the flanks and it was from the left wing that both goals stemmed. After 12 minutes, Benoit Assou- Ekotto sent Bale away and the Finland international defender Petri Pasanen, caught on the wrong side of Peter Crouch, jabbed the ball past his own goalkeeper in trying to recover.

Crouch was there first for the next goal six minutes later, however. The man referred to in the local press as "the two-metre man" used all his height for once in leaping to meet a cross by Van der Vaart, who had received possession from Jermaine Jenas, an unexpected inclusion in midfield.

Bale was twice foiled by keeper Tim Wiese but just as Spurs seemed to be in complete command of the game, they conceded a poor goal. Wesley chipped from left to right and Almeida was able to head in from inside the six-yard area.

Werder had made an attacking substitution after 36 minutes in bringing on Aaron Hunt, who drew a good save from Cudicini in the first minute of the second half just before the equaliser arrived. Younes Kaboul's tackle diverted the ball to Marin, who cut in from the left before shooting low.

Redknapp responded by replacing Van der Vaart with Robbie Keane and the play continued to flow swiftly from end to end. Almeida, Marin and Hunt all came close, although from Tottenham's best move of the half late on, Keane put Crouch in to clip a shot just past the far post. It was tense, but they had at least survived at a ground where Chelsea, Real Madrid and Juventus have all perished in the past.

Werder Bremen (4-1-2-1-2): Wiese; Fritz, Proedl, Pasanen, Silvestre; Frings; Bargfrede (Hunt, 36), Wesley (Borowski, 67); Marin; Arnautovic, Almeida.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-1-1): Cudicini; Corluka, Kaboul, King, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Huddlestone, Jenas, Bale; Van der Vaart (Keane, 49); Crouch.

Referee M Busacca (Switzerland).

Group A

Results so far: FC Twente 2 Internazionale 2, W Bremen 2 Tottenham 2.

Tottenham's remaining fixtures: 29 Sep FC Twente (h); 20 Oct Internazionale (a); 2 Nov Internazionale (h); 24 Nov Werder Bremen (h); 7 Dec FC Twente (a).

* Internazionale began the defence of their Champions League crown in unconvincing style by taking the lead and then coming from behind to draw 2-2 in rainy Enschede. Wesley Sneijder put the visitors ahead when he slotted in after Diego Milito's shot was saved. The hosts hit back with a fine Theo Janssen free-kick before Milito glanced in an own goal from a corner. Inter reacted well, Samuel Eto'o firing in a long-range equaliser after 41 minutes.