Mauricio Pochettino admits he feared the worst when Tottenham’s Champions League draw came out, but is pleased his side have progressed as group winners.
Son Heung-min scored the winner against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday, and his eighth goal in 10 games against the German outfit, as Spurs came from behind to seal a 2-1 victory.
The result means Tottenham head into the last 16 as winners of Group H, ahead of European champions Real Madrid, with one match to spare. They finish at home to Apoel Nicosia next month.
It is a far cry from this time last year, when Spurs’ hopes of progress had already been ended in a group that included Monaco, Bayer Leverkusen and CSKA Moscow.
“The season before, we were watching the draw and we thought: ‘Oh Monaco, Leverkusen and CSKA’ and we thought we had a chance to go to the next stage,” Pochettino said.
“Then this draw we looked between us and thought: ‘OK we are going to compete and we say nothing’ – and look now we are first, top of the table.
“It was difficult because Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund and Apoel are always difficult but we try to enjoy and be competitive and try to win, that was the idea in every single game.
“I am happy for the result, to be top of the table, but we’re looking forward to playing the next game.”
Pochettino started Harry Kane and Dele Alli, both recently injured, as well as Danny Rose, who was left out of the squad for Saturday’s defeat to Arsenal.
Rose certainly justified his place with a dynamic display down the left while Alli set up Son’s winner, having danced between two Dortmund defenders out wide and then provided the cut-back.
“I am so happy about him, of course,” Pochettino said of Alli.
“For me the position he played today he can play easy because of the characteristics of him. He can play behind striker or like a number eight because he has the quality and talent and capacity to cope with different positions, he has that.
“But I’m not only proud of him but the whole team. Danny Rose was fantastic too. We must recognise that. In the second half, and the whole game, after 10 months injury it’s difficult.
“The performance was great. I think the whole team was very good, fantastic performance.”
Dortmund, meanwhile, are now playing for third place and a spot in the Europa League as defeat piled more pressure on their coach Peter Bosz.
Bosz has seen his side win just once in six matches, with Saturday’s derby game at home to Schalke taking on added significance.
“The trust is lacking, which makes sense if you have not won for so long”, Bosz said. “We have to win the derby on Saturday, only the win counts. I think this match cannot come at a better time.”