Sport

Dnipro 1-0 Tottenham

By John Edwards

Friday, February 21, 2014    

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It may have seemed incongruous staging a football match in a country on the verge of civil war, but that didn’t stop Yevhen Konoplyanka turning on the skills that have made him a target for at least three Barclays Premier League clubs.

Kiev may be a good 220 miles away but let no-one suggest the people of Dnipropetrovsk have been unaffected by the tragic events in their capital city.

Both teams wore black armbands as they emerged before a crowd that was barely half- capacity after thousands stayed away in protest at the game going ahead.

As the players stood for a minute’s silence those who saw fit to turn up broke into an impromptu rendition of the national anthem out of respect for the lives lost in Kiev.

It was a surreal backdrop for a game of football but Konoplyanka seemed on a mission to put smiles back on faces and succeeded with a dazzling display of wing-play that was rounded off by a decisive 80th-minute penalty.

The Ukraine winger had already demonstrated why Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal are set to battle for his signature in the summer when he nervelessly drilled a spot-kick in off a post after Jan Vertonghen’s clumsy tackle on Matheus in full flight.

It was a night when former Spurs manager Juande Ramos enjoyed a measure of revenge for his sacking in 2008. But it could have been so different had out-of-form Roberto Soldado taken a tap-in chance around the hour mark.

Disappointed Tottenham boss Tim Sherwood said: ‘I am sure Robbie would agree he would stick that away 99 times out of 100.

'I haven't seen it again but I'm not sure he will be too complimentary about the pitch.

'I am not using it as an excuse, not for the chance, as both teams played on it but I am sure that it must have played some part in Robbie missing that one.

'The pitch was a disgrace, it is no excuse as both teams had to play on it but it is possibly the worst pitch I have experienced in a long time.'

While slick passing moves were almost impossible on the poor surface, there was no shortage of incident with keeper Brad Friedel seizing the chance to show he remains a sprightly athlete at 42.

After dashing out of his area to hack clear in the 16th minute, he regained his ground just as swiftly to claim a shot from Ruslan Rotan, who had controlled the clearance and let fly immediately.

Friedel had his wits about him again in the 25th minute after Matheus was wrongly judged to be onside as he latched on to a long through-ball and raced clear.

As the striker bore down on goal and sized up his options, Friedel stood his ground to block the resulting shot. Not that Spurs were being forced on to the back foot.

With Danny Rose tearing down the left at every opportunity and Andros Townsend stretching Dnipro’s defence on the right, they posed a real attacking threat.

Soldado mistimed a header from Chadli’s 13th-minute cross and then Chadli miscued from Rose’s delivery soon after. But luck was against Spurs when Paulinho was sent tumbling by Ivan Strinic, just as he seemed sure to score.

It looked a penalty and red card for Strinic but, to Tottenham’s dismay, Spanish referee Antonio Lahoz awarded a free-kick on the edge of the area and reprieved the Dnipro defender with a booking.

If they felt hard done to, they had cause to thank Lahoz in the 55th minute. Tottenham’s defence failed to deal with a Rotan free-kick and Friedel challenged Roman Zozulya, who tumbled to the ground.

However, instead of a penalty and red card, Lahoz spotted it was a dive by Zozulya and showed him a yellow card.

Soldado’s miss came seconds later. Paulinho pulled the ball back from the byline and the Spanish striker needed only to guide it over the line from less than six yards.

He guided it over the bar instead and the poor pitch wasn’t really a good enough excuse.

It proved costly, as Matheus sprinted clear and was tripped for the foul that allowed Konoplyanka to step forward and give his side the edge ahead of the return leg next Thursday.

—Daily Mail

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