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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.

Peru’s World Cup foes lobby to overturn Guerrero’s ban

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Following last week’s decision handed down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Peru captain and talisman Paolo Guerrero has been banned from the 2018 World Cup — at the age of 34, almost certainly his last opportunity to star on the world’s biggest stage.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT hosts Bolivia in shadows of World Cup hype ]

However, in the days since that decision, a number of Guerrero’s fellow professionals and World Cup stars — France and Denmark captains Hugo Lloris and Simon Kjaer, and Australia’s Mile Jedinak — have written to FIFA, on behalf of FIFPro, the world player union, in hopes of rendering Guerrero eligible to pay at next month’s tournament in Russia.

“We respectfully ask the Fifa Council to show compassion,” the trio wrote. “In our view it would be plainly wrong to exclude him from what should be a pinnacle of his career.”

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

That Lloris, Kjaer and Jedinak are the players lobbying in favor of Guerrero is particularly notable given the fact that Peru will face France, Denmark and Australia in Group C.

Guerrero tested positive for cocaine late last year, after a tea he drank was tainted and triggered a fail drug test.

SKC, Crew SC play to 0-0 draw; VAR steals the show (again)

Photo by Brandon Wade/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, KAN. — The game in 100 words (or less): Nothing ruins a good game of soccer more than controversies involving the referee — and now that VAR is active within MLS, yet another failure of the video-review system to correct the most “clear and obvious” of wrong decisions. There is no longer any rhyme or reason in deciding whether or not to utilize what could be a very helpful tool. Check the third video further down this page to comprehend the absurdity of VAR in Sporting Kansas City’s 0-0 draw with Columbus Crew SC on Sunday. As for the actual soccer which was played, Tim Melia made one save to deny Gyasi Zardes with a point-blank header early in the first half, and a second to deny Zardes rom the penalty spot just before halftime. Despite being a back-and-forth affair between the league’s second- and third-place teams with a chance to take the lead in the Supporters’ Shield race, there were just six shots on target in total and genuine scoring chances were few and far between.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT hosts Bolivia in shadows of World Cup hype ]

Three moments that mattered

43′ — Zardes wins a PK, but Melia makes the save — Melia was responsible for giving away the penalty kick, and he more than made up for it by denying Zardes moments later.

45+6′ — Higuain puts studs into Espinoza, sees red — Originally not called a foul, changed to a red card following video review. On the softer side of red cards (just an opinion).

59′ — Martinez takes a swing at Sinovic, but no video review — At this point, it’s just time to disband the entire VAR experiment. It’s turned MLS into a clown show and an embarrassment. Signed, someone who was initially in favor of VAR, assuming MLS would utilize it properly.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Tim Melia

Goalscorers: None

Rayo Vallecano win promotion back to La Liga

Photo credit: Rayo Vallecano / @RayoVallecano
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MADRID (AP) Rayo Vallecano earned promotion to Spain’s top division after beating Lugo 1-0 in a second-tier league game on Sunday.

Alex Moreno’s goal for the hosts in the 40th minute sealed Rayo’s return to La Liga after two seasons away.

Huesca had already secured promotion last weekend with a 2-0 victory at Lugo.

The third team to move up will be the winner of a two-round playoff between the four teams that finish the season from third to sixth.

Malaga, Las Palmas and Deportivo La Coruna were all relegated from the top flight this season.

FOLLOW LIVE: West leaders SKC host East’s 2nd-best Crew SC

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KANSAS CITY, KAN. — Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City host Columbus Crew SC, the Eastern Conference’s second-place side, at Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday with both sides capable of overtaking Atlanta United for top spot in the Supporters’ Shield race.

[ FOLLOW: SKC vs. Crew SC in top-of-the-table clash ]

Sporting KC, who are unbeaten in three straight and have lost just once since opening day (11 games), lead expansion side Los Angeles FC in the West. Meanwhile, Crew SC enter Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash unbeaten in their last six games (four wins) and trail the league leaders from Atlanta by a single point.

Hit the link above to follow along throughout the afternoon, and check back with PST for coverage after the final whistle.