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Tottenham crumble on the cusp of glory

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LONDON — It is too easy to roll out the “that’s so Spursy” line once again. But people will use it and this Tottenham team will continue to be linked with devastating failure at pivotal moments.

Clutch, they are not. But the progress is there for all to see.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Tottenham Hotspur were on the cusp of another defining moment, with a win against Italian giants Juventus seeming inevitable with minutes to go at Wembley. But this young squad crumbled under the pressure at another key juncture of their hugely impressive rebuild over the last three years under Mauricio Pochettino.

They have so much to look forward to with a new stadium on the way, Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen yet to hit their prime and top four finishes almost guaranteed season after season. Yet the lack of trophies, and deep runs in the UEFA Champions League, will continue to haunt them. They are tantalizingly close to achieving their dreams but when Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala struck in the space of three second half minutes, most of Wembley sat in stunned silence even though they’d witnessed this same story play out before.

After dominating the reigning Italian champions, and Champions League runners up from two of the last three seasons, Juventus, for vast swathes of the 180 minutes during their Round of 16 clashes, Spurs succumbed to two sucker punches in three minutes at Wembley Stadium to crash out of Europe. That’s the difference at the top table where they want, and believe, they deserve to dine.

How many hits can this talented and hungry young team take before they finally start to regress and lose their incessant hunger?

This crushing exit in the UCL last 16 will be added to their title collapse in 2015-16 (specifically the late draw at Chelsea), their defeat in the FA Cup semifinal in 2016-17, the loss in the League Cup final in 2014-15 and their UCL group stage exit in 2016-17.

The hits keep coming, even if Pochettino says he is proud.

“No lack of experience. No lack of concentration. How many chances did we concede in the first leg and the second leg? Today I think we concede three chances and they scored twice. We created a lot of chances and only scored once. The reality is we concede three chances and they scored twice,” Pochettino said. “We created many, many chances. Sometimes you need some luck to win but I feel very proud. We compete very well against a very good team like Juventus. We dominate. Overall in the two games we were much better but in this type of level in three minutes I think the tie was for Juventus. I feel relaxed and happy. Disappointed of course but the quality and the capacity and performance of the team was very good today.”

After Higuain hooked home an equalizer on the night to make it 1-1 in the second leg and 3-3 on aggregate, Spurs’ young stars faced their biggest test to date. Hold their nerve and they would still edge through against Juventus. This was the moment we were going to see how much this team had learned from previous collapses at key moments. It was the same old story for Tottenham as Dybala went clean through three minutes later to score Juve’s crucial second goal.

Asked if this exit after outplaying Juventus was a nightmare, Pochettino was bullish.

“A nightmare, today? Why?” Pochettino said. “That is football, eh? I am still a dreamer. Of course I am disappointed today, when you compete in the Champions League and against this type of club, you can win or you can lose. Today we lose but in the way that we lose I am happy. For me football is not a nightmare. You can win or lose. We respect our idea and we play football and we create a lot of chances but it wasn’t enough to win the game. That is all.”

When it comes down to it and as harsh as it is to say, Tottenham keep losing when it matters most. That is all.

It could have been so different. If Son had buried the three chances he had in the first half. If Kane’s late header had crossed the line after it hit the post instead of staying out. The bottom line is that Kane, Alli and even Pochettino will only stick around a little while longer before the Real Madrids, Barcelonas and Manchester Uniteds come calling, clubs who seem destined to win silverware and deliver the glory Spurs talk about, and crave, but have yet to deliver. They’re going so close to what they want.

Nobody will be talking about the fact that Spurs dominated one of Europe’s top clubs over two legs and deserved to go through. Everybody will be talking about another missed opportunity just when this young squad seemed destined to arrive with respect levels at an all-time high across the globe.

After the game Juve’s players revealed that they expected Spurs to crumble.

“It’s the history of Tottenham. They always created many chances to score so much, but at the end they miss always something to arrive at the end,” Giorgio Chiellini said. “We knew how to handle things from the heights of our experience… We knew Spurs were weak in defense and fragile mentally. Experience told.”

Chiellini hit the nail on the head. Experience told. Juve took their chances when they arrived and made Tottenham pay the ultimate price.

This Spurs team doesn’t seem to be capable of closing key games out when it matters and when they deserve to. 2-0 up against Chelsea late in the 2015-16 campaign as they hunted down Leicester in search of the title. They conceded twice to let their chances slip. 3-2 up on aggregate and heading through to the last eight of the UCL against Juventus they conceded twice with 25 minutes to go to crash out.

It keeps happening. And, in the most brutal way possible, it is, indeed, “so Spursy” that this keeps happening at key moments.

Despite all of their obvious progress as a club on and off the pitch since Pochettino arrived in 2014, Tottenham will once again rue stumbling, and falling hard, at the most important hurdle.

International preview: What is to come over the next week

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With the 2018 World Cup less than three months away, countries are taking these last moments to see players within their selection pool and make tweaks to the squad and tactics.

This week’s international window has already kicked off with the likes of South Africa, Liechtenstein, and Andorra taking the opportunity to see the field, and World Cup countries take the field tomorrow – two, to be exact. And they play each other.

Denmark and Panama meet in a rare friendly between countries set to take part in the summer festivities, with the match taking place in Bronby at 3pm ET. The two countries chose to play knowing they cannot possibly meet in Russia 2018 until at least the quarterfinals, with their respective Groups C and G split apart across the knockout rounds.

The hosts are fantastic from set-pieces and focus their attack around Tottenham star Christian Eriksen. Panama’s midfield rock Gabriel Gomez will likely be tasked with keeping Eriksen quiet, something the Republic of Ireland was unable to do last time Denmark took the field as Eriksen bagged a hat-trick. Defender Andreas Christensen is headed towards the World Cup in fantastic form with Chelsea, having earned a starting spot with the Blues. With some injuries at the back, Christensen has also played out wide along the back line before as well, something to keep watch for.

On Friday, the heavyweights begin to see the field as Uruguay hosts Czech Republic. The South American nation received a friendly draw in World Cup Group A, but brought in a solid European side to match wits with after the Czechs finished third in their qualifying group. Japan also takes to the pitch on Friday, playing Mali on a neutral field in Belgium. The Japanese will need to be at the top of their game come summer, matched into Group H against Colombia, Poland, and Senegal.

England and Argentina have both scheduled games against European sides that disappointed by failing to make the 2018 tournament. On Friday, England travels to Amsterdam to take on a Netherlands squad in turmoil, while Argentina travels to the Etihad to meet Italy.

Russia and Brazil meet in Moscow on Friday, with over 50,000 tickets already reportedly sold for the match at Luzhniki Stadium. The hosts will then get another stiff test as they take on France four days later on Tuesday. If Russia’s squad has lots of work to do before hosting the World Cup, we’ll know in a week.

The main event on Friday will be Germany and Spain meeting in Dusseldorf in a matchup of the last two World Cup winners. Germany will be without Manuel Neuer and Marco Reus, but still fields one of the deepest squads in the entire world. The Germans don’t then get the week off, having to meet Brazil on Tuesday. If Jogi Low’s side comes out of those matches on top, they could cement their status as favorites headed into the summer.

France has a stiff test as well, meeting Colombia on Friday. Like Denmark and Panama, the two countries reside in Groups C and H, meaning they could not rematch in the World Cup until at least the quarterfinals. The French then go to take on Russia next week.


Denmark vs. Panama
Slovakia vs. UAE
China vs. Wales
Algeria vs. Tanzania
Malta vs. Luxembourg

Germany vs. Spain
Italy vs. Argentina
Russia vs. Brazil
Netherlands vs. England
France vs. Colombia
Portugal vs. Egypt
Uruguay vs. Czech Republic
Mexico vs. Ireland
Poland vs. Nigeria
Austria vs. Slovenia
Peru vs. Croatia
Austria vs. Slovenia
Greece vs. Switzerland
Norway vs. Australia
Mali vs. Japan

Sweden vs. Chile

Kuwait vs. Cameroon
Nicaragua vs. Cuba

Portugal vs. Netherlands
Bulgaria vs. Kazakhstan

Russia vs. France
Germany vs. Brazil
England vs. Italy
Spain vs. Argentina
United States vs. Paraguay
Tunisia vs. Costa Rica
Colombia vs. Australia
Belgium vs. Saudi Arabia
Egypt vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Chile
Japan vs. Ukraine

Alexis Sanchez says he “expected better” from himself at Manchester United

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Alexis Sanchez isn’t happy with his performance so far at Manchester United.

The Chilean superstar has scored just one goal for the Red Devils in 10 appearances since joining from Arsenal, and the club has lost three of those games and has been knocked out of the Champions League by Sevilla.

Speaking with Chilean media on national team duty in Sweden, Sanchez said he expects more of himself and that he’s so far let himself down. “As I am self-demanding, I expected something better,” Sanchez said. “After my arrival at United, it was hard to change everything very quickly. I even hesitated to come here [to join the national team].”

Chile missed out on World Cup qualification, and has friendlies with Sweden and Denmark scheduled over the next week. With so little at stake, Sanchez was poised to take time off from the national team, but says he was convinced by Manchester City goalkeeper and Chilean captain Claudio Bravo to stick it out.

“The change of club was something that was very abrupt – it was the first time I’ve changed clubs in January – but many things have happened in my life that are difficult,” Sanchez said. “I had asked permission to miss these games, but then I thought better and spoke with Claudio and told him that we should all be united.”

Once the international break is over, Manchester United resumes Premier League play against Swansea at the end of March before an April 7th derby meeting with Manchester City.

James Collins injured in West Ham friendly

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West Ham defender James Collins hobbled off the field in the 29th minute of the Hammers’ friendly against Dagenham & Redbridge on Wednesday, a big blow to the club’s already paper-thin back line.

With the league on an international break, West Ham agreed to play a friendly against Dagenham & Redbridge to help raise money for National League club that could be in serious financial trouble. However, it could be detrimental to the short-term future of the Hammers, who are hoping to stave off relegation, sitting just two points above the drop.

The 34-year-old defender has missed significant time this season due to injury, with an ankle injury keeping Collins out for nearly three months in 2017. West Ham has lost just four of the 12 Premier League matches Collins has appeared in this season, with three clean sheets. However, two of those have come in the club’s last three games, thrashed by a combined 7-1 scoreline between 90 minutes against Liverpool and Burnley.

The injury comes at the worst possible time, with West Ham set to play Southampton in a critical relegation matchup between teams in the in 17th and 18th in the Premier League table. The Hammers are already without defender Winston Reid who remains out for the season with a knee injury, while the club sold center-back Jose Fonte to Chinese club Dalian Yifang F.C. in late February.

West Ham was hoping to do its part to help save the London club. Former director Glyn Hopkin abruptly resigned and pulled all financial backing in early February, leaving the club fearing for its immediate future. They reportedly need $353,000 just to stay afloat the rest of the season, even with zero club debt.

Men In Blazers podcast: Mohamed Salah continues to shine

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo marvel at Mo Salah’s four goal, one dime haul in Liverpool’s 5-0 beatdown of Watford, analyze Jose Mourinho’s recent rants about football heritage at Manchester United, and recap Rog’s family trip to Stoke vs. Everton.

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