Son Heung-min loves playing Borussia Dortmund, the record books show that. He has scored more goals against them than any other club: five in five games during his time with Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, and now four in five games for Tottenham in Europe. It is an amazing run.
Yet credit where it is due. Son’s winner on Wednesday night was not fated or inevitable. His form against Dortmund, the certainty of him scoring, is not written in the stars. This was the work of a striker absolutely at the top of his game. It wasn’t just that he found a way around the yellow wall again; right now, Son could find a way through just about any defensive line.
With Tottenham beset by injuries he is keeping the momentum going in this corner of north (west, temporarily) London. If Harry Kane and Dele Alli return to a team that is still in Champions League and title contention, they will know who to thank. Son has scored 11 goals in his last 12 games, and more importantly, in 10 of the last 12, too. He is getting a lot of singles, which is keeping Tottenham hot; his goals are often a vital breakthrough, and the odd winner.
Nice, too, that so many of his countrymen – and women – are making the journey to see the best Asian player in Premier League history.
The streets around Wembley before kick-off were noticeably peopled by either visitors from Asia or members of the ex-pat Korean community in Britain. There have been good Korean players here before, but none quite like this.
Ji Sung-Park had an excellent spell at Manchester United, but he was invariably part of the fine supporting cast, rather than a marquee name. Son is Tottenham’s star right now – surely their player of the season – and a genuine contender for Footballer of the Year.
He led the line on Wednesday night, broke the deadlock and inspired a victory against a team that currently stands five points clear in the Bundesliga. Tottenham were superb, particularly in the second half, and have close to ended the tie in 90 minutes. It would take a catastrophe for them not to progress now.
A word too, for Jan Vertonghen. He says he hates playing full back, let alone wing back, but took to the role like Roberto Carlos after half-time. He made Son’s goal and scored the second. The third, a Fernando Llorente header from Christian Eriksen’s corner, came at a time when Dortmund were quite simply in despair.
It hardly made it easier that Aurier, too often the weak link for all his European experience, went into the book of referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz after just 12 minutes. The Spanish official had little choice when Pulisic eased past him and Aurier clipped his heels. Tottenham were probably fortunate that he did not spot a similar offence by Moussa Sissoko later in the match, or one by Vertonghen on Achraf Hakimi. All were worthy yellow cards given the punishment meted out to Aurier.
Still, for all Dortmund’s pressure – and this was an improved team on 2017, injuries notwithstanding – actual chances were limited. In the 15th minute, Tottenham got into a terrible tangle when the desire to play out from the back becomes a cheque they cannot cash. Toby Alderweireld was placed under pressure and clipped one in a panic to Juan Foyth, who received the ball with all the pleasure he might a parking ticket. Pulisic pounced but the angle was tight and Lloris saved at the near post.
The game then passed with possession but not huge pressure from Dortmund, until Thomas Delaney forced a save from Lloris after 35 minutes. The ball came out to Sanchez, who made a terrible hash of the clearance before danger passed. The best chance of the half, though, was Dortmund’s last.
There were seconds remaining when Sancho crossed from the right, the ball finding defender Dan-Axel Zagadou at the far post. The pace was taken out of his header by Foyth, allowing Lloris to claw it back when it seemed certain Dortmund were going to claim a vital away goal. Not quite Gordon Banks in Guadalajara, but on the night Wembley fell briefly silent in memory of the greatest goalkeeper, he would have surely appreciated the athleticism of a fellow World Cup winner.