TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 4 (Dele Alli 10, Vinicius 50, 83, Bale 73 )
WOLFSBERGER AC 0
A STANDING OVATION sounds strange in an almost empty stadium, but Dele Alli received the closest approximation of rapturous applause possible under the circumstances when he was substituted late in this comfortable win for Tottenham.
It may have been a routine win for Spurs to seal an 8-1 aggregate victory over the modest Austrian side, but there was an overwhelming sense of redemption for Alli, who was close to leaving the club last month before making his peace with Jose Mourinho.
The England midfielder, still only 24, showed enough to suggest that he can recover the form that once made him one of Europe’s most exciting young players. He opened the scoring with a spectacular overhead kick, set up goals for Carlos Vinicius and Gareth Bale, and gave an all action display that rightly earned him man-of-the-match plaudits from his colleagues – and his manager.
“To have Dele back at this level is amazing,” said Mourinho. “I don’t need to speak about his goal, because everyone around the world watched it. For me the globality of the performance is what matters. He played very well in every aspect of the game. Of course he’s not fresh, you can feel that his performance is going to go down, which is normal due injury and not training for a long time.”
Alli’s performance was not only a personal triumph for a player who has been through a torrid time lately, but was also hugely popular with his team-mates. The celebrations that followed his goal outweighed the significance of a strike that merely emphasised how little danger there was of an upset, with Tottenham already leading 4-1 from the first leg in Austria.
Dele has always been a popular player, having arrived as a precociously talented teenager six years ago, and blossomed into one of England’s leading players. But a combination of injuries, dip in form and changing personnel at Spurs led to sharp decline in his fortunes, meaning most of his appearances this season have been in the cups. He’d scored twice in this competition before but nothing was as sumptuous as his overhead shot in the tenth minute. Alli was involved in the build-up twice before laying the ball to Matt Doherty wide on the right. The Dubliner’s cross was low and hard, and Alli’s first touch spun the ball high in the air. With his back to goal, 12 yards out, he showed the same level of expertise as Olivier Giroud had for Chelsea in Bucharest on Tuesday and sent a perfect overhead volley into the corner of the net.
It was a perfect reminder of his finishing ability, and later he showed he can still play provider, too, by creating goals. His pinpoint cross five minutes into the second-half gave Vinicius a simple header to make it 2-0 and soon after Bale replaced Erik Lamela, Alli laid the ball on for the Welshman to sweep home Tottenham’s third.
Vinicius, one of nine changes from the team that lost to West Ham on Sunday, atoned for an earlier miss by shooting home his second and Tottenham’s fourth late in the game to seal their passage in the last 16 of this competition.
They will face much tougher tests than this mid-ranking Austrian side, but with Dele Alli back to his best Mourinho can look forward with optimism.
TOTTENHAM 4-2-3-1 Hart 7; Doherty 6 (Lavinier 73), Alderweireld 7, Dier 7, Davies 7; Sissoko 7 (John 80) Winks 8; Lamela 7 (Bale 69), Dele 9 (Scarlett 80), Bergwijn 7 (Moura 69); Vinicius 7
WOLFSBERGER: 3-5-2 Kuttin 7; Henriksson 6, Baumgartner 6 (Giorbelidze 64) Lochoshvili 6; Novak 5 (Pavelic 46) Wernitznig 6, Liendl 6, Stratznig 5 (Rnic 79) Scherzer 6 (Peric 64); Dieng 6, Vizinger 5 (Joveljic 46)
Ref: Matej Jug (Slovenia)