Paulinho was scorer and provider on a night that sent Tottenham into the Europa League group stages – and for the Brazilian midfielder, may have done much to exorcise the demons of a difficult last season and a traumatising World Cup.
If these European adventures are a chance for the likes of England under-21 star Harry Kane to force his way into a Spurs side now not short on strength in depth, he took it. Ben Davies, Sandro and Moussa Dembele were also given starts to try and prove their worth.
The game started brightly enough at a lively White Hart Lane with reassuringly few empty seats. But there were few chances before, on 45 minutes, Paulinho capitalised on a miscalculated backpass from Valentinos Sielis and rolled the ball across the face of the box to Kane who, suddenly in large amounts of space in front of goal ,fired in to the bottom right corner.
That atoned for the youngster’s earlier penalty miss that had come after the first half’s only other real incident of note. With just five minutes gone, Kyle Naughton darted in from the right flank to meet a lofted pass from Paulinho and into the box where the on-rushing keeper, Moroccan Karim Fegrouch, came nowhere near the ball, but did met the right back’s knee full in the face.
The unfortunate Fegrouch remained down for a full seven minutes as he was treated for a nose injury and possible concussion, which the Cypriot travelling support behind his goal – at least half of it shirtless – filled time with an unlikely Poznan style celebration.
With his first action, new keeper Pulpo Romero dived to his left for the penalty but kept his right leg dangling in the centre of the goal, keeping out Kane’s attempt.
Limassol, from Cyprus’s second city, held their shape but offered very little going forward. Tottenham’s second came four minutes into the second half. AEL’s young midfielder Diallo Guidileye inexplicably sought to dribble his way out of his penalty area but surrendered the ball to the first white shirt he encountered, Vlad Chiriches.
The Romanian rolled it goalward to Paulinho and he fired in convincingly with a low shot to the right.
Spurs’ passing game became more expansive, with England duo Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend playing nice one-twos with Dembele and racing down their opposite wings at pace.
To compete with the best this season, Tottenham will need to draw on every resource they have in their squad. These two, far from guaranteed a first team place, might yet be crucial.
It was Townsend, too, who scored Tottenham’s third from the penalty spot on 70 minutes. Romero went to his left again but the penalty was too well placed and beat him.
In his matchday magazine Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino said his intention this season is “to do our best in every competition we enter and go as far as we can”.
To win the Europa League would take 17 matches. In their way stand the likes of Inter, Lyon and whoever might join via elimination from the Champions League group stage. To do that, and puncture the top four of the Premier League at the same time is a Herculean task indeed. At half-time, the great Martin Chivers poured a bucket of ice over Chirpy the Mascot – all in the name of charity.
But Tottenham can expect something of a jolt to the senses when Liverpool turn up on Sunday lunchtime. Brendan Rodgers’s team put nine goals past them over the course of last season’s two Premier League encounters, although the fire breathing Uruguayan has gone.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1) Lloris; Naughton, Kaboul, Chiriches (Veljkovic, 85), Davies; Paulinho, Sandro (Holtby, 77) Lennon, Dembélé, Townsend; Kane. Substitutes not used Friedel (gk), Rose, Adebayor, Dier, Chadli.
AEL Limassol (4-4-2) Fegrouch (Romero, 45); Edmar, Carlitos, Cadu, Sielis; Barcelos, Guidileye, Nikolau (Danielzinho, 45), Bebe; Gikiewicz, Sardinero (Tagbajumi, 79). Substitutes not used Espana, Carlitos, Eleftheriou, Nadeau.
Referee M Zelinka (Cz Rep).Reuse content