Tottenham Hotspur secured first place in Europa League Group J with a 2-0 home win over Royal Antwerp thanks to second-half goals from Carlos Vinicius and Giovanni Lo Celso on Thursday.
Brazilian striker Vinicius netted from close range after Gareth Bale’s superb long-range free kick was tipped onto the woodwork by goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand before Argentine Lo Celso wrapped up the win with 20 minutes remaining.
The result means Spurs will be seeded in the last 32 thereby avoiding some of the favourites in Monday’s draw.
“We knew this game was a must-win so that we could go top of the table,” said defender Japhet Tanganga. “We go into the next round against a lesser team because we’ll be in the higher pot.”
Tottenham enjoyed the majority of possession in a tame first half on a chilly night in north London. There was little for the almost 2,000-strong fans to cheer, aside from an early Bale header wide and a Lo Celso shot saved by Beiranvand.
But the hosts took the lead in the 57th when Vinicius had an easy tap after Beiranvand saved Bale’s free kick only for the ball to come back off the post into the striker’s path. It was the on-loan Benfica player’s third Europa League goal for Spurs.
Home coach Jose Mourinho then brought on the big guns of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Tanguy Ndombele to secure the win. It worked as Kane released an overlapping Lo Celso on his right in the 71st, with the midfielder poking the ball home.
“When I thought about the changes the result was 0-0 then we scored the (first) goal but I didn’t change my mind. It was a question of trying to kill the game,” said Mourinho. “I thought in the second half with bit of intensity they will collapse.”
Antwerp’s second-place finish a point behind Tottenham, who have 13, means the Belgians have reached the knockout stage of European competition for the first time in 30 years while Spurs are among the favourites for Europe’s second-tier competition.