Spurs slay their Wembley demons and cunningly beat Dortmund

Harry Kane scored twice and Tottenham Hotspur scored a huge win at Wembley against Borussia Dortmund. (Reuters)
Harry Kane scored twice and Tottenham Hotspur scored a huge win at Wembley against Borussia Dortmund. (Reuters)

In a dozen home games at Wembley, Tottenham Hotspur had compiled a miserable record. White Hart Line is being demolished, and the Spurs’ new stadium — which doesn’t have a name yet, because nobody has paid the no-doubt towering price tag — isn’t finished.

So the English national team’s ballyhooed home is getting couch-crashed by Spurs for a season. The trouble is that Tottenham, which has finished an impressive and stereotype-busting third and second in the last two Premier League seasons, doesn’t seem to play well there. Of those dozen games, it had lost eight and won just two.

This season, Spurs had won both their league away games without conceding a goal, at Newcastle and Everton no less, but failed to win at home. The loss to defending champions Chelsea was understandable. The tie with little Burnley much less so.

So the relief was apparent when Spurs got the monkey off their backs on Wednesday with their first home win of the season. Against German juggernauts Borussia Dortmund no less, in spite of being outpossessed for long stretches of the game and finishing the contest with 10 after Jan Vertonghen was sent off for smacking Mario Goetze in the face as he shielded the ball.

The 3-1 victory, against a side that had not yet conceded a goal this season, made for a pleasing Champions League opener for Spurs, thanks to two goals by Harry Kane and one by Son Heung-Min. Andriy Yarmolenko got Dortmund’s tally.

All four were magnificent goals — as was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s, which was wrongly disallowed. It was the sort of game that reminds you that the level of soccer is higher in the Champions League than any other soccer competition, whether on the club or international level. The concentration of talent and the fluidity of the teams is so elevated that fireworks ignite by the slightest spark.

Spurs, set up in a lightning-quick counter-attacking strategy by Mauricio Pochettino, accepted that Peter Bosz’s technical team would likely win the battle for the ball. And so they adjusted to devastating effect, hurtling through Dortmund’s impossibly high defensive line.

And it didn’t take long for Tottenham to get its first lead. In just the fourth minute, Son was dispatched magnificently up the left by Kane. The Korean beat Sokratis Papastathopoulos one-on-one and then smashed his finish by Roman Burki.

Yet seven minutes later, Dortmund got the prettiest of all the pretty goals. Yarmolenko cut inside from the right flank, exchanged passes with Shinji Kagawa, and curled a splendid shot into the upper 90. An instance of offside earlier in the play was not flagged.

But before a quarter of an hour had been played, Kane scored with almost a perfect replica of Son’s goal. On a counter-attack up the left, by himself, he beat two defenders and hammered his finish in at the near post.

The first three shots of the game all went in for goals. Delightful goals.

The American teen phenom Christian Pulisic, who is still a few days shy of his 19th birthday, had a lively game, albeit one in which his final product was lacking. Although he was involved in most of the attacks, and gave the Spurs’ defense considerable trouble, his last passes were mostly misdelivered.

On the brink of halftime, he had a goal disallowed. Aubameyang had been offside and was deemed to be active on the play, and probably reasonably so, before Pulisic scored on a goal-mouth scramble.

In the 56th minute, Aubameyang’s marvelous volley from a tricky delivery should have stood, since he’d been onside on the play. But it wasn’t given. And a few moments after this second disallowed Dortmund goal, Spurs put the game away. Eriksen set up Kane, who had way too much space, and finished accurately.

Spurs will likely have to keep answering questions about this supposed Wembley curse until they win a home game in the Premier League. But Wednesday’s comfortable victory, against a team strong than most all domestic opponents, can serve as a proof of concept for Pochettino’s team.

It can be done, they’ll now know for sure, because this idea that Spurs can’t win at Wembley is hokum.

As a sports psychologist might tell you, bad runs such as a the one that deprived Tottenham of any kind of sustained success at home start to take on a life of their own. They lodge themselves into the players’ heads, no matter how absurd they are.

For weeks, the English soccer pundit class has been arguing that Wembley somehow riles up opponents in a way that other venues don’t. And that, as such, Spurs plays more motivated opposition in every home game. On its face, that seems silly. Most any big club plays in a famous stadium and brings out a little extra energy in its visitors. That’s just the nature of being a big club. And playing in a famous stadium.

In that regard, Spurs are no different from the other big teams they have recently joined in the rarefied air of the sport. There’s no empirical evidence to suggest that Tottenham can’t be every bit as successful at Wembley as they were at White Hart Lane, where they went a year without losing. It’s all just lore and mystique, which might have been reversed if Spurs only ever won there. Then we might talk about the opposition being intimidated by a Wembley aura that the home team had grown accustomed to.

Spurs, of course, can win at home this season. And proved it Wednesday.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.