By Martyn Herman
MADRID (Reuters) – Three weeks of planning effectively went out of the window for Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino after 23 seconds of Saturday’s Champions League final when Moussa Sissoko was adjudged to have handled in the penalty area.
Mohamed Salah fired home the spot kick to give Liverpool a dream start and although they failed to build on their fortune until Divock Origi late second, it completely knocked the stuffing out of Tottenham.
Liverpool, even far from their flowing best, comfortably kept a timid Tottenham in check after that. Pochettino’s side left it late to escape their straight-jacket and only offered a threat after the break.
“We were unlucky, we conceded a goal on a penalty,” Pochettino, still looking for his first silverware with the club he has made Champions League regulars since joining in 2014, said.
“To start 1-0 down from the start was tough, we changed our plans. That (penalty) was the circumstance we cannot manage or prepare for. You can never believe you will be 1-0 down after a minute. Mentally it was very tough.”
The decision looked slightly harsh with the ball appearing to hit Sissoko first on the chest before striking his upper arm.
It appeared to take Tottenham an age to shake off the blow and while they dominated possession for long periods they failed to get a shot on target until the 74th minute.
When Son Heung-min and substitute Lucas Moura both tested Liverpool keeper Alisson Becker and the otherwise disappointing Christian Eriksen forced another fine save with a free kick, it seemed Tottenham might produce another comeback.
But in the end they came up short.
“We’re all very disappointed, but I feel so proud of my players,” Pochettino said. “Finals are about winning, not about playing well — it’s not tactics.
“To concede a penalty after 20 seconds has a massive impact.
“It’s so painful but we need to keep going. Of course it’s going to be tough but after a few hours we need to change our minds and be positive.”
Pochettino worked wonders to get Tottenham to the final, especially having spent nothing in the last two transfer windows. While not commenting on his own future, he said the club must not lose the belief that silverware can arrive soon.
“It’s about trying, believing and building the journey so it happens again as soon as possible,” the Argentine said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)