For Spurs it will be of little solace that these are the kind of nights – with the volume turned up, the drama near-unremitting and knockout football at its most attractive – that can make the Champions League feel so special. This could have been one of the great nights for this club and, very nearly, it was. Instead, it became a harrowing reminder that they have a lot to learn at this level and they might just have to accept the allegations of naivety that come their way.
It would be harsh to be too cruel when, over the two legs, Mauricio Pochettino’s side played some exhilarating attacking football against nine-time finalists, scored three times against a side that had not conceded a Serie A goal since December and were still ploughing forward in those heart-stopping moments when Harry Kane’s 90th-minute header came off the turf, thudded against the post and, agonisingly, bounced across the goal-line before being hacked clear.
Ultimately, though, the night will be remembered for that three-minute spell in the second half when Gonzalo Higuaín and Paulo Dybala both scored within three minutes of one another to turn the game upside down and give the Italians a 4-3 aggregate lead. And if there is one thing we know about the Italian champions, with all that rich experience in their back line, is that they know how to defend a one-goal advantage.
Having battled back from two goals down to secure a 2-2 draw in the first leg in Turin last month, Tottenham knew a clean sheet would be enough to finish the job and add Juve to the scalps of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.
To put it into context, Juventus have not conceded a goal in Serie A since a 3-1 victory against Hellas Verona on 30 December. Yet Spurs set about the game as though they believed the very thing that has made Juve’s defence so parsimonious – all that vast experience – might be turned in the favour of the home team if their front players could prove they were fitter and faster.
Juve had a goalkeeper, the great Gianluigi Buffon, of 40 years and three players over the age of 30 in their back four. If Son was the outstanding player, perhaps it was not a surprise that his movement and nimble feet created so many problems when his marker for the night was a couple of months from a 37th birthday. Andrea Barzagli has had a fine career but it was a telling moment when he trod on Son’s thigh in the first half and then, just for good measure, did the same again while expertly feigning an apology. Barzagli carried out the assault so skilfully it was tempting to admire how a man could perform such an act without anyone bar Son apparently noticing. Ultimately, though, all it told us was that the old warrior had worked out Son had the beating of him.
Not that Spurs should complain too vehemently about that incident bearing in mind the home side’s good fortune, at 0-0, when Douglas Costa accelerated past Jan Vertonghen into the penalty area and the Spurs player made the mistake of diving in against a player he could not catch.
It was a clear penalty and bewildering, to say the least, that the team of Polish match officials decided to give Vertonghen the benefit of the doubt, compounded by the fact that the Champions League employs an extra assistant referee behind the perimeter line of the penalty area. These assistants do not have to do a tremendous amount of work during games and Juve are entitled to be aggrieved that the relevant one here did not alert the referee, Szymon Marciniak, about what had happened. The nearest linesman also had a fine view, though it could also be argued that Marciniak should not have needed any assistance to understand it was a clear infringement. For Spurs, it was a huge let-off.
Spurs might have had a penalty of their own in the 12th minute – albeit a much less obvious one – when Giorgio Chiellini handled the ball with Harry Kane in close proximity and even at that stage it was clear this was not going to be a night of tactical caginess.
Kane had beaten Chiellini in their first duel, then took the ball wide of Buffon only to aim his shot into the side netting. Dele Alli was full of incisive running, with Christian Eriksen never too far away, and the two of them were both involved in the sweeping attack that led to Son’s goal. Alli had the first chance but Barzagli’s sliding tackle was timed well to divert the ball outside the penalty area.
The problem for Juve was that it went straight to Kieran Trippier and he had already seen that Son was unmarked if he could pick him out. Trippier rarely gets a cross wrong and Son had the good fortune of striking the shot against his standing foot before the ball looped in almost in slow motion.
From that position of strength, Spurs surely ought to have tried shutting down the game or at least playing with more intelligence. Yet Juve deserve enormous credit for the fightback and had shown from the start they were willing to attack in numbers. The key for Spurs was to show they knew enough about this competition, having reached the quarter-finals only once before, to handle the occasion. Then, in the 64th minute, the substitute Stephan Lichtsteiner crossed from the right, Sami Khedira won the first header and when Higuaín applied the decisive touch to score at the far post the speed at which the game changed in Juve’s favour was frightening.
Suddenly the volume went down inside Wembley and it quickly got worse. Juve seemed to sense their hosts were rattled and, however naive Spurs appeared in those moments, it was a wonderful piece of forward play from Higuaín to send Dybala running clear and a marvellous finish to give the Italians a 4-3 aggregate lead.