Tottenham Hotspur won 2-0 against Tromso in the bitter chill of Norway on Thursday to seal first place in Europa League Group K and ease a little of the pressure on manager Andre Villas-Boas.
Reports in England in recent days suggest that the Portuguese is hanging on to his job after last Sunday’s 6-0 hammering by Manchester City in the English Premier League, and another substandard performance on the trip north of the Arctic Circle would have done him few favours, even if Spurs were already through to the last 32 before this game.
Michael Dawson and Roberto Soldado were the only two players to keep their place in the team from the Manchester City debacle, and the much-changed Spurs side had to wait until the second half before finally breaking down a team who were recently relegated to the Norwegian second tier.
The opener on the artificial pitch at the Alfheim Stadion did not come until the 63rd minute, when Adnan Causevic turned the ball into his own net under pressure from Vlad Chiriches, and the London club doubled their advantage when Gylfi Sigurdsson set up Mousa Dembele to fire home from 12 yards with 14 minutes remaining.
Dembele struck the post soon after but the 2-0 scoreline was enough to maintain Tottenham’s perfect record in Group K and boost confidence ahead of Sunday’s Premier League clash with Manchester United.
“It was important for us to get back to winning ways. We said that before the game when we were back in London,” said Villas-Boas.
“We knew about the conditions and the artificial pitch and the players did well to get a result which puts us back on our toes, ready for Man Utd.”
Meanwhile, Swansea City were unable to get the point that would have clinched their qualification from Group A as they lost 1-0 at home to already-qualified Valencia, Dani Parejo scoring the only goal of the game in the first half.
However, Swansea were left to rue an erroneous decision by the officials to disallow an Alvaro Vazquez effort before the break that would have brought the Welsh side back level.
“I’ve seen the disallowed goal and it was at least one yard onside so that was a pity,” Swansea manager Michael Laudrup told ITV after the game.
“With a little more we could have got that point, at least, that would have got us through. Now we have to maybe get that point in the last game in Switzerland (against St Gallen),” added Laudrup, who lost Wilfried Bony to a hamstring injury which could rule the striker our for several weeks.
Kuban Krasnodar beat St Gallen 4-0 earlier in the day, with the Paraguayan Lorenzo Melgarejo scoring twice, and the Russians could yet overhaul Swansea on the final day.
There was agony for England’s other representative Wigan Athletic, who saw their chances of qualification taken out of their hands in a late 2-1 home loss to Belgium’s Zulte Waregem in Group D.
However, a total of 18 clubs have now qualified for the last 32, including Eintracht Frankurt, who secured top spot in Group F with a 1-0 victory at Bordeaux.
French side Olympique Lyonnais, who have endured a difficult start to the season, are through after recording a narrow 1-0 win at home to Spanish top-flight strugglers Real Betis with Bafetimbi Gomis coming off the bench to score the only goal of the Group I game in the second half at the Stade de Gerland.
Despite the defeat, Betis are also through, their superior head-to-head record against Vitoria Guimaraes – who drew 0-0 with Rijeka in Croatia – guaranteeing them at least second spot.
And Betis’s local rivals Sevilla are certain to progress from Group H despite only managing a 1-1 home draw with Estoril in Spain.
Rubin Kazan of Russia, Genk of Belgium, Lazio, Anzhi Makhachkala, PAOK and AZ Alkmaar also secured their berths in the knockout stages on Thursday.