By Callum McCarthy
The apparent ever-presence of the English “Big 4” had brought an air of predictability to European football’s midweek schedule, so when Tottenham Hotspur finally managed to break into the Premiership’s exclusive “Champions League club”, neutral fans nationwide awoke from their slumber, half expecting something to happen.
First up? Werder Bremen away — not exactly the easiest of fixtures to kick things off with, especially considering that their recent performances have been reminiscent of watching 11 baby deer attempting to stand up on a frozen lake.
“No matter”, Spurs said, “we’ll just take a two goal lead and leave you guys to it.”
And that, they did.
After a delightful ball over the top, Gareth Bale left Werder right-back Clemens Fritz in the dust after a perfectly timed run from the halfway line. Reaching the byline, Bale hit a low cross towards Peter Crouch, who graciously allowed Bremen centre-back Petri Pasanen take the credit — the 30 year old Finn sliding the ball into his own net.
Spurs’ choice of footwear was more congruous with the New York Fashion Show than Champions League football.
1-0 Spurs, cuing bravado from the travelling fans in the form of “Champions League? You’re having a laugh” — proof that you can’t beat an old classic.
There was more laughter to be had just 5 minutes later. A heavy tackle from Torsten Frings gave Rafael Van Der Vaart an opportunity to work his magic from the left touchline. At the second attempt, the Dutchman swung a beautiful cross that hung high over everybody but the towering Crouch, who cleared Pasanen by head and shoulders to guide the ball into the top corner from 12 yards out.
2-0 up and just 16 minutes gone, Spurs’ were looking assured with their lead, stylishly going about their business.
Should have called in sick, Petri.
But Bremen were by no means out of it, Marko Marin’s fast feet was causing Spurs right back Vedran Corluka a whole host of problems. Even with the game going Spurs’ way, the young playmaker was showing off his tricks, shooting dangerously from range and frightening his opponents with a mixture of direct runs and clever passing.
Then, Bremen’s breakthrough.
With the Spurs defence asleep, left-back Wesley swung an angled cross that left two white shirts and a goalkeeper ball-watching. Considering his size, it’s rare that Hugo Almeida goes unnoticed, but on this occasion he was “Splinter Cell” stealthy, slipping between his markers to nod home three minutes before the half.
2-1, and there would be more German dominance after the break.
Just a minute into the second half, Bremen were straight back on the offensive. After Carlo Cudicini turned a fantastic effort from Aaron Hunt over from 20 yards, it would be Marko Marin to do the damage.
Cutting in off the left wing, Marin ran directly at the retreating Spurs’ defence, who were keen to keep the 21 year old in their sights. Marin rewarded their by giving them front-row seats to one of the goals of the week, unleashing a vicious right-footed drive inside Cudicini’s near post from outside the area and rippling the net for the equaliser.
2-2, Bremen in the driving seat, and things quickly went from bad, to worse, to near apocalypse for Spurs — Van Der Vaart limping off with a calf strain.
Younes Kaboul tangles with the ultra-stealthy Hugo Almeida.
Still the men in green continued their assault.
A long ball over the top was chased down and fired over by Almeida, and shortly after, Marko Marin left Corluka scrambling to find his jock-strap on three separate occasions, reducing the Croatian to rubble before firing a shot straight at Cudicini.
But it was Spurs who had the chance to take all three points late on, as Wilson Palacios unlocked the defence put Crouch one-on-one, only for the lanky hitman to slip it across Wiese and agonisingly wide of the far post.
It would end honours even at the Weserstadion — each side sharing the upper hand over the course of two halves.
Spurs’ first European excursion will live long in the memory of the fans who travelled, but this game will mean nothing if they fail to put away FC Twente at home in two weeks time. As for Bremen, a tough fixture away at Rafael Benitez’s Internazionale awaits, where they must continue their momentum in order to stay in contention for qualification.