After 85 minutes of facing Son Heung-min in this mood, you had to feel for the Eintracht Frankfurt defenders. A mesmerising performance from the South Korean which included one of the most emphatic volleys you will ever see helped Tottenham take what Antonio Conte will hope is a giant step towards the knockout stages.
Having fallen behind to Daichi Kamada’s early strike for Frankfurt this could easily have turned into a nightmare evening for Conte, whose record in the Champions League at his previous clubs has never quite matched his achievements in domestic competitions.
But then the Italian has never had a strike partnership quite like Son and Harry Kane, whose assist for his partner-in-crime’s equaliser was the 50th goal combination they have managed in all competitions. Kane’s penalty and Son’s wonder strike left Frankfurt gasping for air before half-time, with their misery compounded when Brazilian defender Tuta saw red in the second half having been completely bamboozled by Son.
After last week’s 0-0 draw in Germany left Group D wide open, Conte had called on Tottenham supporters to ensure his side could “play with 12 players” by creating an “amazing atmosphere”.
Having paid an emotional tribute to Gian Piero Ventrone in his programme notes, Conte led the minute’s applause for the former fitness coach before kick-off and former player John Duncan as he stood next to Ventrone’s vacant seat that was decorated with a floral tribute.
Yet it was Frankfurt, whose energetic supporters packed out the away section, who started with more conviction and may even have taken the lead earlier than they did. Kamada found himself totally unmarked at the back post but could not quite reach a dangerous cross into the Tottenham box inside the opening five minutes.
Conte, who decided against risking recalling Dejan Kulusevski despite positive news on his hamstring injury this week, opted to restore Emerson Royal at right wing-back as one of three changes from the side that defeated Brighton at the weekend.
But it was two other defenders who were at fault for the opening goal when Eric Dier took his eye off a sloppy pass across the penalty area from Cristian Romero just for a second and Frankfurt’s Jesper Lindstrøm was there to pounce.
Hugo Lloris could only palm the ball away before Sebastian Rode showed great awareness to square for Kamada to score. Frankfurt’s lead would last for barely seven minutes, however, as Royal’s pass from his own half picked out Kane and the England captain’s through ball was measured to perfection for Son to finish with aplomb past Kevin Trapp.
There was more debate about Tottenham’s second when Kane went down in the area after a mazy dribble from the left flank. Referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande initially waved away his appeals to the obvious frustration of Conte down on the touchline, but VAR intervened to rule that Kristijan Jakic had brought him down and Kane stepped up to fire Spurs in front.
A powerful effort from Lindstrøm that Lloris did well to parry away at his near post could have seen Oliver Glasner’s side hit back immediately in a sign that last year’s Europa League winners would not go down without a fight.
But after Pierre-Emile Højbjerg’s cross allowed Son to dispatch his perfect volley past the helpless Trapp, even the supporters behind his goal were momentarily struggling to find their voices. It was only down to the Eintracht goalkeeper that Son was his denied his hat-trick just before half-time after the South Korean beat the offside trap once again, with Trapp also coming to his side’s rescue to palm away a header from Romero.
Tottenham had failed to record a victory in their past five Champions League meetings with German clubs but could have made sure of the points early in the second half had Ryan Sessegnon made the most of two opportunities that fell his way. The second came after dogged work down the right flank from Richarlison called Trapp into action again to save Sessegnon’s goalbound shot.
Frankfurt’s fate was effectively sealed when Tuta was dismissed after being booked twice in the space of five minutes for fouls on Son. Having been dragged back by his shirt and then pulled to the ground, so desperate was the Tottenham forward to complete his hat-trick that he was still trying to play on even after the referee had awarded the foul.
To their credit, the victors kept pushing and almost found an unlikely route back into the game when Lindstrøm’s shot was expertly saved by Lloris. Substitute Faride Alidou’s late goal from a corner after Son had been withdrawn briefly aroused hope that they could rescue something but it was to be Tottenham’s night in the end, even when Kane blazed over from the spot in injury time after Bryan Gil was brought down by Jakic.