Harry Kane has revealed that stirring words from captain Hugo Lloris and coaches Cristian Stellini and Ryan Mason inspired Tottenham to a stunning second-half comeback without Antonio Conte in Marseille last night.
For the second time in a week, Spurs scored a stoppage-time winner to book their place in the Champions League knockouts as group winners.
Trailing to Chancel Mbemba’s goal after a listless first half, Clement Lenglet equalised before Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg scored with the last kick of the game to ensure Spurs won the group and will be seeded in Monday’s last-16 draw.
Conte was banned from the touchline and dressing room, and not allowed to communicate with his staff and players until 15 minutes after full-time.
The Italian watched from the stands, just behind Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, leaving it to assistant manager Stellini and first-team coach Mason to lift the players at the interval.
“We showed great desire in the second half, great mentality,” Kane told Standard Sport.
“It’s kind of been the story of our season so far, we’ve been more of a second-half team. There were a few words said by a few people at half-time: that we had to be more aggressive, have more intensity. We came out in the second half and did that.
“I’m not going to go into all the details but Hugo, being the captain, [spoke] and Cristian and Ryan, obviously standing in for Antonio.
“We’ve been in that situation before this season, which we’re a little more used to than we want to be. But we weren’t panicking, which is the most important thing.
“We knew it was one goal and we could still qualify and we’re a team that always feels like we’re going to get chances, especially in the second half of games when teams get tired. That’s what happened but full credit to the boys and staff.
What a way to win your group!!! 🤩
Hojbjerg scored this beauty with the last kick of the game to secure the top spot in group D having gone behind in the first half...
What a turn-around!! 💫#UCL pic.twitter.com/PBITDlh9js
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 1, 2022
“It wasn’t easy not having the manager there but he was a big part of preparing the whole week. It was just a really important win and a great win for the club.”
With Marseille needing to win the reach the knockouts, there was a ferocious atmosphere inside the Stade Velodrome, while fireworks were let off outside Spurs’ team hotel at 1am and 4.30am the night before.
Kane said he was proud of the players for coming through a test of character and hopes the win can be a springboard for their final three matches before the break for the Qatar World Cup.
“We expected it — we were told the fireworks might happen,” he said. “I woke up on the first lot but the second lot I was fast asleep thankfully!
“Their fans were incredible, we knew the atmosphere would be special and that was with one of the stands closed as well. Credit to them, they’re doing everything to make sure their team wins. I’m so proud of the boys, coming to a really tough place, the atmosphere was really hostile and we had to find something amongst ourselves, players and staff, and we managed to do that.
“It was really important just before the World Cup. If we’d have gone out, then it would have been a real sting because you know you’re coming back from the World Cup and playing Europa League and it’s just not the same feeling. So that was really vital.
“We’ve got three games before the World Cup and hopefully we can use tonight to finish strongly and if we can be there or thereabouts in the Premier League and get through in the Carabao Cup, it’ll be a really good start to the season.”
England fly to Qatar in less than two weeks and face Iran in their opening game on November 21. Kane, the England captain, admitted the tournament is playing on some players’ minds but insists he remains focused on the games against Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Leeds.
“You try not to think about it,” he said. “I said the World Cup was going to come round really quickly, and it’s come round really quickly.
“A lot of players have got it in the backs of their minds but the top top players manage to give 110 percent no matter what. The more you try to think about managing yourself, it sometimes backfires.
“I’m just trying to focus on the next three games. It’s hard not to think about it [the World Cup] but if we can have three good results it will put us in a really good place going into the tournament.”