TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2 (Vinicius 56, Lo Celso 71)
ROYAL ANTWERP 0
GARETH BALE rolled back the years with the sort of free-kick he used to hit regularly in his first time at Tottenham as Jose Mourinho’s men marched into the knockout stages of the Europa League.
Both Spurs and Antwerp were already through to the last 32, which may explain why the first 55 minutes was somewhat sterile. But Tottenham need victory to overtake the Belgians at the top of Group J and avoided the seeded sides, including those who have dropped out of the Champions League.
And it was Bale who set them on their way to victory in the 56th minute. The Welshman did not score, but his thundering free-kick from 30 yards was too good for Antwerp keeper Alireza Beiranvand, who could only flap the ball against the post and into the path of Carlos Vinicius to tap home.
It was Bale’s last action, as Mourinho was committed to making three substitutions, including Harry Kane and Heung Min Son. And shortly afterwards Kane set up Giovani Lo Celso to score Tottenham’s second and ensure their smooth passage.
Mourinho’s starting line-up had 9 changes from the side that beat Arsenal on Sunday, but there was still no place for Dele Alli, who didn’t make it off the substitute’s bench either. And while Spurs were the better of the two sides throughout, they hardly threatened to overwhelm Antwerp, the only side to have beaten them since Tottenham’s opening day defeat by Everton.
Mourinho famously made four changes at half-time during the defeat in Antwerp, and he showed once again that he will not sit by if his second string players are not performing. One man who had a chance to show Mourinho he is worth a regular place is Harry Winks, who has been out of favour in recent weeks, but the England midfielder had a quiet game until being replaced at the same time as Bale, and showed his disappointment by walking straight to the dressing rooms.
But the substitutions reinvigorated Spurs, and they would have won by a bigger margin but for some fine saves from Beiranvand, the Iranian international making his debut for Antwerp. He made good saves to deny Vinicius, Bale, Son and Steven Bergwijn. But he had little chance when Kane sent Lo Celso through on goal in the 71st minute. The little Argentinian drew Beiranvand before poking the ball into the far corner for a goal that his man-of-the-match performance deserved.
Kane headed uncharacteristically wide, Davinson Sanchez headed over the bar and Lucas Moura had some fierce shots blocked, but two goals were enough to see Spurs finish top of the group and go into Monday’s draw as seeds – and a team that no-one will want to meet in the round of 32.
Hart 6; Sánchez 6, Tanganga 6, Davies 7; Doherty 6, Winks 6 (Ndombele 57), Lo Celso 9, Reguilón 6, (Bergwijn 46); Bale 7, (Son 57), Vinícius 6 (Kane 57), Lucas Moura 7 (Sissoko 68)
ROYAL ANTWERP 3-4-3
Beiranvand 8; Seck 5 Gelin 6 Batubinsika 5 (Juklerod 57); Buta 6 Haroun 6 Hongla 5 Lukaku 6; Benson 6, Benavente 5 Refaelov 5 (Ampomah 46)
Referee: Jesús Gil Manzano (Spain)