Roberto Soldado’s embarrassing mistake was the “key” moment in Tottenham’s Europa League exit, but Mauricio Pochettino had no regrets about playing the misfiring striker ahead of Harry Kane.
Having arrived in Florence with the last-32 clash level at 1-1, the Spurs head coach made seven alterations with Sunday’s Capital One Cup final against Chelsea in mind.
It was a decision which looked like it would pay dividends after the north Londoners began brightly, yet they petered out at the Stadio Artemio Franchi and lost 2-0 on the night.
Mario Gomez and Chelsea loanee Mohamed Salah capitalised on mistakes by Federico Fazio and Jan Vertonghen in a tie which would have been so different had Christian Eriksen been awarded a first-half penalty or, more importantly, Soldado scored.
Clearly bereft of confidence, the Spaniard decided to pass out to Nacer Chadli when through one-on-one, only for the under-hit ball to be easily gathered by Fiorentina goalkeeper Neto.
“We are all disappointed, the player, too,” Pochettino said of Soldado’s chance. “It is normal.
“This one was the first final for us and all players are disappointed, but now we need to look forwards, to recover quickly, because on Sunday we have another game. It is impossible to change the game now.
“It is true that it was key, this action. You need some luck to score sometimes if you are to win the games.
“It is true that the second half we made some mistakes and we take a risk and Fiorentina scored.
“We did not score and, if we want to analyse the game, it is easy: Fiorentina scored, we didn’t score and in football you don’t score it is difficult to win games.
“I think they scored more than us and we didn’t score. If we analyse the performance, we played very well again but didn’t score in the first half.
“You only deserve to go through to the next round if you score and they scored more goals than us.”
Despite the way things panned out, Pochettino insisted he had no regrets about playing Soldado ahead of in-form Kane, nor any of the other alterations he made.
“Fiorentina made nine changes, we made seven changes,” the former Argentina defender said.
“I don’t know how to explain – we are in a busy period and when you have a strong squad, you need to give the opportunity play to all.
“It is not about selection it is about performance and our performance was very good in the first half. We deserve maybe 2-0 because I think there was a great chance for us and a clear penalty.
“We played well and dominated the game, but this is football. It is easy to explain as we saw tonight.”
The win saw Fiorentina extend their unbeaten run in all competitions to 11 matches – much to the delight of manager Vincenzo Montella.
“I think there is great satisfaction, a reward for the work put in during the last weeks,” he said.
“We are going through to the last 16 and considering we are going through against one of the richest ranked teams, that says a lot.
“The lads did great, especially when they suffered physically after the first half.
“We did play in a different way tonight, we were organised and solid at the back. I think everyone deserved special mentions. I compliment everyone in the squad.”
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