Thursday, December 2

Lucas Silva steps forward to help Paços de Ferreira stun the weakened Spurs | Europa Conference League

If Tottenham really want to reach the group stage of the Europa Conference League, it might be time to turn to a top-notch center forward. Paços de Ferreira deserved this victory over a second-row Spurs team, a goal in the first half from Lucas Silva ensuring there was at least something to remember from a thoroughly tedious match. But the Portuguese team certainly weren’t good enough to suggest that a fully shooting Harry Kane would have trouble saving them if he’s selected for next week’s second leg; However, continued participation in this competition could be bittersweet, and there was certainly little indication in a featureless demo that Nuno Espírito Santo would lose sleep over an early exit.

Kane’s last absence had been well marked and, to be fair, under normal circumstances he would never have been expected to appear here. Nuno kept his promise to rest everyone who started in the win over Manchester City, but was still able to present a consummate-looking team with a hint of youth. Nile John started out in an offensive midfield role and the striking inclusion was 17-year-old forward Dane Scarlett. Scarlett, of whom José Mourinho is a high-profile fan, had the opportunity to prove that a vaunted academy product could soften any disappointment inflicted by another.

If Paços de Ferreira, a team with a modest history that edged itself out to finish fifth in the Portuguese top flight last season, needed to outsmart later, then the selection of identical twins Matthew and Michael Craig on a bench. As an inexperienced substitute he had some potential to sow. confusion.

Urgency was low in the opening stages, which were played under the golden afternoon sun in a compact stadium 20 miles from Porto. The quality came from the quick and agile feet of Bryan Gil, the arrival of Sevilla, who looked brilliant and confident on his debut. Gil showed great ability to get to the baseline in three minutes and cut back for Ryan Sessegnon, who got the ball stuck underfoot in an attractive position at the first post. He worked in space on several other occasions, though none rivaled that level of threat.

Sessegnon, who is returning from a season on loan at Hoffenheim, reacted smartly to clean up a Cristian Romero slip when the home side showed some intention of showing their teeth. Romero, the center-back on loan from Atalanta, was not always comfortable when Paços de Ferreira broke up and was lucky not to send center-forward Denílson after a subsequent indecision. When Hélder Ferreira forced Pierluigi Gollini, another rookie, to save a short daisy-cutter, it was a sign that the Spurs would not compete solely on their own terms.

Bryan Gill, who joined the Spurs from Seville this summer, was one of the few players who made a positive impression.
Bryan Gill, who joined the Spurs from Seville this summer, was one of the few players who made a positive impression. Photograph: Gualter Fatia / Getty Images

As the break drew near, it had become a challenging watch, with the Spurs unable to feed Gil and John in areas where they could encourage Scarlett to sniff. The sensation of drift was palpable and, out of nowhere, Paços de Ferreira capitalized. Silva hadn’t scored since coming from Flamengo last year, but he was too easily able to escape Cameron Carter-Vickers after a pass from Valente Santos. The referee, Maurizio Mariani, had played an intelligent advantage to facilitate the play; Silva advanced and beat Gollini with a confident low finish.

It was no surprise to see peripheral John replaced by Jack Clarke, the bank’s only option with some experience to speak of, for the second half. Little changed initially, the Spurs’ lack of intensity summed up when Harry Winks showed little stamina to prevent Denílson from pushing him past the midline. A couple of corners, born of a brilliant run towards Sessegnon’s line, caused a slight alarm in the home defense, but within the hour, André Ferreira, the home goalkeeper, still hadn’t bothered at all.

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Romero seemed prone to overcommitment and was fortunate not to be booked for crudely running through Silva. At least he was showing some kind of advantage: The Spurs, for whom Gil had long since vanished, didn’t look remotely like scoring.

Paços de Ferreira showed little inclination to press for a second goal. On paper, at least, this was going to be their biggest European scalp, and given the absence of threats directed at them, they could be forgiven for seeing the result. A late free kick by Vitorino Antunes was blocked but there would be no time to rival Silva’s goal; The Spurs must decide whether it is worth sending the big shots, whether for a farewell shift or not, to reverse the deficit in North London.

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