Antonio Conte revealed Richarlison had fulfilled his Champions League dream after the Brazil forward finally scored for Tottenham with a double in Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over 10-man Marseille.
After going five games without a goal following his £60 million ($69 million) move from Everton, Richarlison got off the mark with a pair of clinical headers to break Marseille’s resistance in north London.
Conte’s team were well below their best for long periods, but the game swung their way when Marseille’s Chancel Mbemba was sent off for a foul on Son Heung-min early in the second half.
That was Richarlison’s cue to seize the spotlight as the 25-year-old netted with 14 minutes to play and struck again five minutes later.
Making the first European appearance of his career, Richarlison’s predatory finishes showed why Conte made him his marquee summer signing.
The sight of the Brazilian weeping with joy as he celebrated with his family in the stands after the final whistle underlined what it meant to him.
“I remember very well when Richarlison signed for us and he said ‘I can’t wait to play in the Champions League and listen to the music’. When a player says these words, it means he has great desire and great will,” Conte said.
Tottenham are expected to qualify from Group D — which also features Eintracht Frankfurt and Sporting Lisbon — and this was the ideal start, even though their performance was hardly eye-catching.
Unbeaten in their first seven games in all competitions this season, Tottenham are still gelling after Conte’s close-season spending spree but the Italian will be encouraged by their ability to grind out results.
“These nights are very special. Before the game we spoke with the players to say we know very well what we did last season, the great job and sacrifices and everyone made so we could have this night,” Conte said.
“I think we felt a bit of pressure in this competition, but at the end we have to be pleased.”
European nights under the floodlights have always held a special place in the hearts of Tottenham fans raised on Gareth Bale, Jimmy Greaves, Martin Chivers and Tony Parks delivering iconic moments in continental competitions.
Runners-up in the 2019 Champions League in the Mauricio Pochettino era, Tottenham were back in the competition after two seasons of failing to qualify but the match had a distinctly Premier League feel.
Marseille had five former Premier League players in their team with Matteo Guendouzi and Nuno Tavares jeered whenever they touched the ball due to their spells with Tottenham’s bitter rivals Arsenal.
Marseille’s Premier League links weren’t restricted to the pitch as former Manchester City midfielder Joey Barton, who once played for the French club and now manages third-tier Bristol Rovers, was among their travelling fans.
Tottenham gave the ball away far too easily in the first half and ex-Newcastle defender Mbemba was narrowly off target from distance before Guendouzi’s goalbound drive was blocked.
Harry Kane had a chance to break the deadlock just before half-time, shooting wide from 12 yards after Son picked him out.
Guendouzi’s 20-yard rocket drew a good save from Hugo Lloris, but the game swung Tottenham’s way two minutes into the second half.
Kane dropped deep to send a superb pass through to Son and the South Korean was hacked down by a despairing lunge from Mbemba, who could have no complaints about the red card.
Amine Harit squandered a golden opportunity to give Marseille a shock lead from Sead Kolasinac’s cross and moments later Tottenham finally took the lead in the 76th minute.
Conte’s decision to opt for the Champions League experience of Ivan Perisic instead of youngster Ryan Sessegnon paid off as the Croatian floated a gorgeous cross towards Richarlison and the unmarked forward powered his header past Pau Lopez.
Having broken his duck, Richarlison struck again five minutes later when he met Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s cross with a glancing header from 10 yards.
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