Roberto Soldado’s embarrassing mistake was the “key” moment in Tottenham’s Europa League exit, but Mauricio Pochettino had no regrets about playing the misfiring striker ahead of Harry Kane.
Having arrived in Florence with the last-32 clash level at 1-1, the Spurs head coach made seven alterations with Sunday’s Capital One Cup final against Chelsea in mind.
It was a decision which looked like it would pay dividends after the north Londoners began brightly, yet they petered out at the Stadio Artemio Franchi and lost 2-0 on the night.
Mario Gomez and Chelsea loanee Mohamed Salah capitalised on mistakes by Federico Fazio and Jan Vertonghen in a tie which would have been so different had Christian Eriksen been awarded a first-half penalty or, more importantly, Soldado scored.
Clearly bereft of confidence, the Spaniard decided to pass out to Nacer Chadli when through one-on-one, only for the under-hit ball to be easily gathered by Fiorentina goalkeeper Neto.
“We are all disappointed, the player, too,” Pochettino said of Soldado’s chance. “It is normal.
“This one was the first final for us and all players are disappointed, but now we need to look forwards, to recover quickly, because on Sunday we have another game. It is impossible to change the game now.
“It is true that it was key, this action. You need some luck to score sometimes if you are to win the games.
“It is true that the second half we made some mistakes and we take a risk and Fiorentina scored.
“We did not score and, if we want to analyse the game, it is easy: Fiorentina scored, we didn’t score and in football you don’t score it is difficult to win games.”
Pochettino insisted he had no regrets about playing Soldado ahead of in-form Kane, nor any of the other alterations he made.
“I don’t know how to explain — we are in a busy period and when you have a strong squad, you need to give the opportunity play to all.
“It is not about selection it is about performance and our performance was very good in the first half. We deserve maybe 2-0 because I think there was a great chance for us and a clear penalty.
“We played well and dominated the game, but this is football. It is easy to explain as we saw tonight.”
Meanwhile, Everton comfortably completed their progress into the last 16 of the Europa League as a Romelu Lukaku brace helped them beat Young Boys 3-1 at Goodison Park, sealing a 7-2 win on aggregate.
The Merseysiders once more came from behind on the night, the 21-year-old Belgium striker equalising with a penalty in the 25th minute after Sekou Sanogo’s close-range 13th-minute opener, then volleying home on the half-hour mark to take his tally for the season to 15 goals.
Everton subsequently went in 3-1 up at the interval, just as in leg one, after Kevin Mirallas slotted in three minutes from the end of the first half having latched onto a superb Darron Gibson through-ball.