They never stopped believing, never stopped coming forward. Did Spurs know that Inter had scored? They had to presume it. They had to presume they would need at least a draw.
And with five minutes to go, they got it — the goal, the point, that propels Tottenham into the Champions League knockout stage.
By the skin of their teeth, obviously. With a points total that would mean Europa League football in most other groups. But not this one. Not Group B. It has been a battle, but Tottenham emerged — and if Inter Milan could not beat PSV Eindhoven at home, knowing that was what they had to do, they are hardly deserving of sympathy.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
BARCELONA (4-3-3): Cillessen 8; Semedo 6.5, Lenglet 6.5, Vermaelen 7.5, Miranda 6; Alena 6, Rakitic 6.5 (Busquets 46, 6.5), Arthur 6; Coutinho 6.5, Munir 5 (Messi 63, 7), Dembele 8 (D Suarez 76, n/a)
GOAL: Dembele 7
SUBS NOT USED: Ter Stegen, Pique, Alba, Vidal
TOTTENHAM (4-2-3-1): Lloris 6.5; Walker-Peters 6 (Lamela 61, 7), Alderweireld 6.5, Vertonghen 6.5, Rose 6.5; Winks 6 (Llorente 83, n/a), Sissoko 6.5; Eriksen 7, Alli 6, Son 6.5 (Moura 71, 7); Kane 6.5
GOAL: Moura 85
SUBS NOT USED: Gazzaniga, Davies, Skipp, Dier
REF: Milorad Mazic (Serbia)
There is a reason only one English club, Liverpool, have ever won in the Nou Camp. There really isn’t any such thing as a Barcelona second team.
Here was a Barcelona reserve XI that included left and right forwards worth a fraction south of £300million, plus some of the brightest young prospects in Europe. And when coach Ernesto Valverde thought the game needed an upgrade, Lionel Messi came on for the last 27 minutes.
So Messi was on the field when, at what was close to the last time of asking, Tottenham finally broke down the door. They had been getting closer and closer. A Harry Kane header, cleared on its way to goal; a chance for substitute Lucas Moura that somehow goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen clawed away from the line. Tottenham gave it their all, but still a lone mistake by Kyle Walker-Peters, a battlefield promotion, separated the teams, letting in Ousmane Dembele. Yet Spurs came forward, again and again, Moura’s fresh legs replacing Son Heung-min, asking more questions. And, just the once, Barcelona had no answer.
Erik Lamela, another substitute, fed the ball out to Kane and his cross was as sweet as could be delivered by any midfield creator, picking out Moura timing his run perfectly and pushing it past Cillessen. Tottenham barely celebrated. The mission now was to survive. They hung in there. They got through. It was a draw that felt like a win, in every sense.
Poor Walker-Peters. Thrown into such a crucial game, in effect the third-choice right back, he arrived with the endorsement of manager Mauricio Pochettino (right) and went in at half-time knowing his mistake had made Tottenham’s task that much harder.