TURIN (Reuters) – On the ropes after Gonzalo Higuain struck twice for Juventus in the opening nine minutes, Tottenham Hotspur launched a Harry Kane-led fightback to draw 2-2 in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday.
When Argentina striker Higuain volleyed Juve in front after two minutes and fired home a penalty seven minutes later the hosts, runners-up in two of the last three season, appeared to have one foot already in the quarter-finals.
Tottenham were wobbling but responded to dominate for long periods and Kane halved the deficit in the 35th minute with his ninth goal in nine appearances in the competition.
The outstanding Christian Eriksen beat veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon with a free kick 20 minutes from fulltime to give Tottenham the advantage going into next month’s second leg at Wembley Stadium where they have already beaten champions Real Madrid in the group phase.
Juve, who had conceded only once in their previous 16 games in all competitions, will rue Higuain’s missed penalty on the stroke of halftime but could have few complaints after being shaken to the core by a vibrant Spurs side.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino even sounded disappointed his side had not gone on to end Juve’s near five-year unbeaten run at home in European competition.
“The character we showed today was fantastic,” he said. “Two down against a side who are so difficult to break down and in the end we deserved to win more than to draw.
“This showed the team is more mature. The first minutes were difficult but it was amazing how we reacted.”
Tottenham arrived full of confidence after winning a group containing Real and Borussia Dortmund.
But they were caught cold as Juventus were awarded a free kick and Miralem Pjanic cleverly picked out Higuain who swivelled to volley right-footed past Hugo Lloris.
Tottenham had barely put two passes together when they fell further behind. Ben Davies was caught napping and his rash tackle sent Federico Bernardeschi flying to give the referee an easy decision to point to the spot.
Higuain duly converted despite Lloris guessing the right way and getting a touch on the ball.
From a position of control, however, Juve began to retreat and allow Tottenham’s creative department of Eriksen, Mousa Dembele, Erik Lamela and Dele Alli to pull the strings.
Eriksen’s sublime pass should have resulted in a goal for Kane but his header was superbly saved by Buffon, who also got down well to deflect another Kane shot wide.
Juve were dangerous on the counter-attack with Higuain almost scoring a third but Tottenham were back in the tie when Alli picked out Kane after 35 minutes and the England striker rounded Buffon before sliding home.
Tottenham had a huge let-off on the stroke of halftime when they were caught on the counter-attack and Douglas Costa enticed Serge Aurier into a desperate lunge to concede another penalty.
Higuain took the ball but rather than celebrate a first-half hat-trick his penalty rattled the crossbar.
Juventus played more like the away side in the second half with Tottenham again pressing, although the hosts went close with Lloris saving well from Bernardeschi and Mario Mandzukic then heading straight at the thankful French keeper.
There was barely a dull moment and when Tottenham were awarded a foul 25 metres from goal Eriksen drilled a low shot that deceived Buffon and nestled into the corner.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)