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Tottenham come of age at Juventus

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Two years ago, heck, 12 months ago, this Tottenham Hotspur side would have crumbled and lost 4-0 to Juventus in Turin on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Spurs react to Juve draw

But this Tottenham side is different. They are maturing before our eyes this season and the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash was a coming of age party.

In the UCL knockout rounds for just the second time in club history (they crashed out in the UCL group stages last season) and the first time since 2010-11 when they reached the quarterfinals, expectation was in the air as you got the sense that all of the hard work this young Spurs side had put in since Pochettino arrived in 2014 had led to this point.

Trailing 2-0 after nine minutes amid a cauldron of a noise at the reigning Italian champions, a side who had been UCL runners up in two of the past three seasons, this wasn’t part of the plan.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men looked startled but, more importantly, not stunned.

Gonzalo Higuain’s two early goals instead sparked Spurs into life and even when they were 2-0 down they looked the most likely to win.

Harry Kane had a good chance saved by Gianluigi Buffon before he pulled one back in the first half as wave after wave of Tottenham attacks flooded towards the usually impenetrable Juvenuts goal. Kane’s goal was the first Juve had conceded in 2018 and the first in any of their last 17 games in all competitions.

The Italian giants aren’t used to being dominated in this manner but with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings and Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier powering along in central midfield, Juve were the team who looked stunned. That said, they could’ve gone 3-1 up right on half time as Spurs gave away a second penalty of the game but Higuain, on a hat trick, smashed his penalty kick against the crossbar.

By that point it would’ve been a travesty has Spurs gone in 3-1 down at half time, such was their dominance in the opening 45 minutes. After the break it was more of the same.

Juve sat back and had the occasional chance on the break with Higuain going close and Federico Bernardeschi forcing Hugo Lloris into a fine save, but it was Spurs who looked comfortable and at home at one of Europe’s great teams.

Eriksen deservedly equalized from a free kick to cap off a fine individual display and it was a night where he, along with Kane, Dele Alli, and so many of Spurs’ squad who have now been together for three full seasons, came of age.

The respect and admiration that Juve’s stalwarts Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini in particular showed to Spurs’ young team at the final whistle told the entire story. This was not a case of boys against men.

Pochettino applauded a job well done at the final whistle as his side take two away goals back to Wembley with them for the second leg on March 7. They must get the job done on home soil at what promises to be a famous night at Wembley, but there’s no longer an air of impending implosion around Tottenham as there had been in the past.

Going into that game Spurs will fancy their chances of putting Juve away early on. Their youthful exuberance saw them come a cropper at pivotal junctures like this, but this is a different Spurs team.

Eriksen is 26. Kane, 24. Alli, 21. Dier, 24. Dembele, 30. Lloris, 31. Vertonghen, 30. Over the past few weeks they’ve beaten Manchester United and Arsenal, comfortably, at home, plus drew away at Liverpool in a similarly pulsating encounter.

Tottenham’s players all know their roles and they’ve all endured the heartache of coming close, but not close enough to glory, especially in their last two title races.

It seems that this season Tottenham are maturing into a team who are not only a perennial top four team in the Premier League but one that can challenge for European glory. All of this has been achieved amidst playing at a temporary home stadium and question marks about how on earth they can keep their best players at the club.

Pochettino’s team have matured like a fine Argentinian Malbec from his homeland that one can only assume he admires and enjoys, but not quite as much as he’s enjoying the maturity and progress of the squad he’s now assembled.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.

West Ham to friendly neighbors Dag & Red: “Will help save our club”

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English Conference Premier side Dagenham and Redbridge has seen better days, and is getting a hand from a Premier League pal.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

West Ham United will pay a visit to Dag & Red as part of the latter’s #SaveTheDaggers campaign, and the March 21 date will cost fans between $7 and $21 to see a top flight side at 6,000-seat Victoria Road.

Dagenham and Redbridge chairman Paul Gwinn said, “It really will help save our club.”

“So please come on down to the Chigwell Construction Stadium for an additional night of football. Bring a friend, or two, or more and we can use the gate takings to help get us back on track,” reads a press release.

Dag & Red was founded in 1992 and climbed as high as League One in 2011, and plays just 2.5 miles from West Ham United’s training ground. Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are among Dag & Red alums in the Premier League.

It’s a terrific gesture from West Ham, and is even more impressive in the United States where the growing club game is increasingly cutthroat (especially between non-synced leagues).

Angry Di Francesco extremely quotable after Roma loss

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AS Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco absolutely roasted his charges after i Lupi tossed aside a Cenzig Under-inspired lead to fall 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Wednesday.

Di Francesco had praise for Edin Dzeko, who assisted Under’s goal, as well as goalkeeper Alisson, but was mostly enraged by his side.

[ MORE: Recap + Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Rather than construct a narrative, we’re going to point out our five favorite selections from Di Francesco’s post-match talk.

4) “The difference was that in the first half we tried to hurt them while in the second we were looking to hold on – to what? I don’t know.”

— “To what? I don’t know” is hilarious. Di Francesco’s side has posted some serious wins this season, including killing off Chelsea 3-0 at home and coming back from 2-0 to draw the Blues at Stamford Bridge. He doesn’t preach sitting back.

3) “There were far too many schoolboy errors – even by players with a wealth of international experience.”

— Schoolboy errors!

2) “I saw two completely different teams out there today. There were lots of players I should have taken off after we conceded the first goal.”

— Again, one mistake by a number of players on Facundo Ferreyra is enough for Di Francesco. He’s not just happy to be here.

1) “I can’t imagine we’d get arrogant just because we’re winning an important game. It’s not as if Roma are used to reaching the final every year.”

— When you’re willing to essentially rip an entire club’s history — Roma’s been to just two UCL quarterfinals since losing the final to Liverpool in 1984 — you’re putting your footprints in new cement.

Europa League preview: Rating every second leg

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Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund are one of many teams with their UEFA Europa League fates realistically in the balance come Thursday’s second legs of the Round of 32.

[ MORE: Sevilla 0-1 Man Utd | Mourinho reacts ]

Aside from a sextet of big teams posting blowouts, there’s still hope for the Round of 16 and a step closer to an automatic berth in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League.

Basically done

Atletico Madrid 4-1 Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Sporting Lisbon 3-1 Astana — 1 p.m. ET
Arsenal 3-0 Ostersund — 3:05 p.m. ET
Milan 3-0 Ludogorets Razgrad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Spartak Moscow — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga 0-3 Marseille — 3:05 p.m. ET

In four of these cases, the heavy favorites emerged with multiple goal leads and at least three away goals.

Actually done

CSKA Moscow beat Red Star Belgrade 1-0 on Wednesday to win 1-0 on aggregate.

Unlikely, but big club lurks

RB Leipzig 3-1 Napoli — 1 p.m. ET
Villarreal 1-3 Lyon — 1 p.m. ET

In the case of Napoli, their 3-1 home loss to Leipzig was stunning but it’s impossible to rule out a club with such firepower. Villarreal trails by two to Lyon, but is home and dangerous.

Advantage one side, but anyone’s guess

Lokomotiv Moscow 3-2 Nice — 11 a.m. ET
Lazio 0-1 FCSB — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit Saint-Petersburg 0-1 Celtic — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg 2-2 Real Sociedad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Atalanta 2-3 Borussia Dortmund — 3:05 p.m. ET

Salzburg’s two away goals in a draw feels like a one-goal lead, and the one-goal matches are especially interesting. In the case of Atalanta, 1-0 to the Serie A side could undo Michy Batshuayi‘s first leg heroics for BVB.

Wide open

Plzen 1-1 Partizan Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Dynamo Kyiv 1-1 AEK Athens — 1 p.m. ET

Yes, nil-nil will get it done for the hosts, but there wasn’t a 0-0 in the entire group of first legs.