Until recently, one could be forgiven for thinking that Hugo Lloris isn’t real. Since rolling up to the Spurs training ground on transfer deadline day with his scarf tied whimsically into a cravat, the French national captain has made a handful of appearances rather than a gloveful of saves. The ‘Lloris or Friedel’ debate has raged with poor Hugo lost, at times, in pure existentialist despair, but the Frenchman’s one-man show in Rome appeared to finally provide a solution to Andre Villas-Boas’ seemingly unanswerable question.
A number of fine Lloris saves at Lazio’s Stadio Olimpico kept Spurs’ European dream alive though this is a little misleading. But for questionable officiating Tottenham would have already qualified for the next stage of the Europa League and further overseas adventures in 2013. Given Italian football’s long association with corruption and scandal, one cannot help but raise an eyebrow when three legitimate Spurs goals are chalked off in favour of one of its teams in two separate matches.
The conspiracy theorists among us may also point to the bizarre situation where a bloodied Kyle Walker was refused access to the field for wearing one of the club’s ‘blood shirts’. Number ‘49’ is reserved for those rare occasions where a player’s blood-soaked jersey is replaced mid-game, but despite being standard practice in the Premier League (and nothing untoward) UEFA officials used this impromptu shirt change as an excuse to deny Walker’s return for several uncomfortable minutes. Lazio duly exploited the additional space and almost scored.
Yet after Gareth Bale’s onside effort was ludicrously ruled out in the early stages, it was a nervy, backs-to-the-wall performance with Spurs offering precious little creativity outside an occasional sortie from the Welsh wonder and the clever promptings of pint-sized midfielder Tom Carroll aka ‘Modric Lite’.
Step forward Monsieur Hugo Lloris. The sterling performances of ageless American Brad Friedel have relegated the French national captain to the bench, unfairly in the eyes of many, but this was the game where Lloris justified French hyperbole with a string of super stops that put Spurs on the brink of the competition's last 32.
Only a home draw against Panathanaikos is required for progression in the tournament. Europa League games have been, in recent times, criminally underattended at White Hart Lane so please support the team and buy tickets here. At £20 they should be within most fans’ budgets. The 1882 movement will be occupying Blocks 32/33 and once more adding song and soul to the occasion. Be there.
***Best wishes and thoughts go to those Spurs fans injured in a bar in Rome on Wednesday evening. Despite its grand architectural beauty, the city has always fostered an unpleasant and unfriendly edge and this is only the latest in a long line of attacks on English fans seeking nothing more than a relaxing break and the entertainment of a football match. We can only hope that visiting fans of all clubs will receive better fortunes and protection in the future, but bitter experience suggests it’s unlikely.