London: Fernando Llorente scored his first goal for Tottenham Hotspur as they rounded off their impressive Champions League group stage campaign by strolling to a 3-0 home win over APOEL on Wednesday.
Tottenham, who were already guaranteed to finish top of Group H ahead of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, ended with 16 points and five wins from six games. APOEL finished bottom with two points.
Llorente, who joined Spurs from Swansea City in the summer, opened his account for the club in the 20th minute when he beautifully controlled a low cross from Serge Aurier and swivelled before firing into the net.
Tottenham, who made eight changes to the team that started against Watford on Saturday, doubled their lead after 37 minutes when Son Heung-min curled the ball into the far corner and Georges-Kevin N‘Koudou made it 3-0 with 10 minutes remaining.
This is tremendous progress for a team that could not even make the knockout phase last season, and is only appearing in the Champions League for the third time.
"It's a massive change," Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino said. "Last year we were so disappointed about how we played, about how difficult it was for us to compete in the Champions League. This season we have improved a lot."
Not on the domestic front, though. Runners-up last season in the Premier League, Tottenham have slipped to sixth and are already 18 points adrift of leader Manchester City. The wait for a first English title since 1961 will extend into another season unless there's a rapid transformation.
And there's a danger the only way back into the Champions League is by winning it for the first time.
"We have spent a lot of energy ... and maybe it has affected us a bit in the Premier League," Pochettino said. "Now we have to be focused on the Premier League and win games there."
That is something Tottenham have not achieved in a month, collecting only two points from their last four fixtures.
"We wanted to get back to winning ways and we did that tonight," said Dele Alli, one of only three players retained from the side that drew at Watford on Saturday. "It's important that as a team we stay together and keep building."
Pochettino did have a chance to test the depth of the resources at his disposal in the buildup to the busy end-of-year fixture program.
Llorente's wait for a Tottenham goal ended in his 17th game, on only his fourth start since joining from Swansea as cover for Harry Kane in August.
"It's difficult when you don't have opportunities," Llorente said, "but you have to create them for yourself."
"It's important for him," Pochettino said. "When you are a striker you need to feel the net. Of course players need time to adapt, when you arrive at a new team with no pre-season you need time to find your best level.
"It's difficult to play 20 or 30 minutes, it's important for him to feel he can cope for 90 minutes. He is a player who is going to help the team a lot. He has been helping a lot but now with more confidence and belief he is going to help more."
"I'm very happy, for different players had a different opportunity to play and show their quality," Pochettino said. "They will add quality and put pressure on the players in the first XI. To have more players with the confidence to compete for a place is important."
The omens are good for Tottenham in the Champions League. The last two English teams to collect 16 points in the group stage went on to reach the final: Arsenal in 2006 and Manchester United in 2008. The furthest Tottenham have previously reached was the quarter-finals in 2011.
But despite winning their group, thanks to a victory and draw against Madrid, Tottenham could still face a tough team when the competition resumes in February. Bayern Munich and Juventus are among the second-place teams who could await the north London club in the draw on Monday.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Dec 07, 2017 09:32:44 IST