Africans In The UCL: Aurier the winning wing-back as Hakimi & Dortmund fall to Spurs
It’s advantage Tottenham after the first leg of the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League round of 16 encounter between the North Londoners and the Bundesliga leaders. Two quick goals in three of the last ten minutes ensured Mauricio Pochettino’s men have a comfortable three goal cushion when they travel to Signal Iduna Park on the 6th of March 2019. The story of the match can be summarised by looking at the fate of two African wingbacks, Moroccan Achraf Hakimi and Ivory Coast’s Serge Aurier.
The 20-year-old has been turning heads at table topping Dortmund but this particular match wasn’t one for the books. A relatively dull first-half that saw both sides being slightly conservative in their approach served nothing worthy of a mention. Hakimi’s usual cutting edge crosses into the box emanating from swift runs down the right flank were reduced to blocked shots more often than not. At the restart, Spurs resurfaced from the Wembley tunnel with more purpose and intent, opening the scoring in the 47th minute. Ofcourse it was the “Smiling Assassin,” who fired a volley past Burki from close range but the all delightful assist came from an unlikely source. Belgium’s Jan Vertonghen delivered a man of the match performance playing in an unfamiliar left-wing back role and it all began with that super cross to Jeung Min Son. The 26-year-old Ivorian, Serge Aurier, was probably taking notes when Jan did his thing as he also took a turn in the 83rd minute to swing one onto the path of the running Vertonghen who finished with the venom of a centre-forward. Aurier had been excellent throughout the match, playing the game his opposite number Hakimi would have dreamed of on the night - running up the pitch at the slightest of chances and frustrating the play of Chelsea bound Christian Pulisic.It’s the kind of performance that will perhaps put him back in contention for a starting role in Pochettino’s Premier League eleven after being less preferred, behind Kieran Trippier in recent weeks. In the absence of injured Harry Kane, Fernando Llorente came off the bench to head Christian Eriksen’s corner in the 86th minute which sealed a 3-0 victory for Spurs who go marching on.
The Bundesliga title favorites have all to do heading into the second leg and they couldn’t have asked for a better venue than the electric Signal Iduna, home of the infamous Yellow Wall described as “a spellbinding sight, that may not be quite visible from space, but whose dimensions and noise reach up to the stars,” by the Bundesliga official website.
It’s advantage Spurs but game on for Dortmund and Hakimi, recent champions league history has taught us that it’s never really over until the stern referee blows the final whistle.