Champions League final: Mauricio Pochettino to wait until last minute to make his big selection choice

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Harry Kane and Mauricio Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino will wait until the last minute to decide whether Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane is fit enough to face Liverpool in the Champions League final on Saturday.

Kane has said he feels ready to start in Madrid, despite not playing since damaging ankle ligaments in the quarter-finals against Manchester City last month.

Asked in a press conference on Friday if Kane would play, Pochettino said: “I don’t know. We have one training session left and then we are ready to decide.”

If Pochettino picks Kane, it would deliver a significant boost to Spurs but they have survived without him, after Lucas Moura scored an incredible second-leg hat-trick to knock out Ajax in the semis.

“It is not going to be easy to take a decision tomorrow,” Pochettino said.

“We have all the information and we know every single detail. To try to win, you can only use 11 players, that is the most painful situation.”

Pochettino had lobbied to include all his players in the official pre-match on-field photo.

“I proposed a few weeks ago that the whole squad do a picture together before the game and I think UEFA have listened.

“We talk about the value of the game – many things have happened in England, a lot of problems, and tomorrow we have one billion people watching and we can show the value of football.

“I think tomorrow is about showing togetherness and it is a great chance to show the value of a collective sport.”

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Tottenham have reached their first ever European Cup or Champions League final, while Liverpool are bidding to win the tournament for a sixth time after losing to Real Madrid in the final last year.

Spurs’ run is the greater surprise after dramatic, late goals against Manchester City and Ajax put them within sight of the trophy, despite not signing a single player in the last two transfer windows.

“To be here, with everything falling for us, it means the praise comes a lot and the team feels strong at the end of the season,” Pochettino said.

“The club couldn’t sign players, it’s true, we could not open the new stadium until a month ago and we had to play at Wembley, as well feeling the effects of the World Cup.

“All these things have given us strength, they have made us better, more creative. If you believe, and you have faith, and you work hard, you can have rewards.”

Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris is bidding to win both the Champions League and World Cup within 10 months, after he triumphed with France in Russia last summer.

Hugo Lloris

Hugo Lloris

“It is a privilege to be part of these two teams,” Lloris said. “To win the World Cup with my country was a massive achievement but it couldn’t be possible without the help of my teammates and it is the case again in this final.

“I think we have a good mix of experienced players and young players and they need to follow the leaders, first the manager and then the team’s leaders.

“And then we just need to be ready because it is a fantastic game to play. It’s going to be about small details. They can be decisive.”

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Champions League Best Ever... Managers, including Brian Clough and Zinedine Zidane

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Brian Clough

The two sides entering the Metropolitano Stadium on June 1 can legitimately be pinned up against some of the great European sides witnessed during the competition’s rich history.

Ahead of this blockbuster encounter between Tottenham and Liverpool we’re running a series on Europe’s elite competition called the ‘Best Ever…’ and on this occasion we’re examining the greatest managers to have graced the tournament.

Trimming the list down to five is an enormously tricky task and any one of the five picked hold claim to top spot.

But here is our look at the five best European Cup/Champions League managers.

1. BRIAN CLOUGH 

If Ol’ Big Head had been coaching in this era, a day wouldn’t go by without one of his witticisms setting social media aflame.

Acerbic, outspoken, unconventional and a plain genius, the man who named himself as ‘in the top one’ of the best managers sits atop our list of European greats as well.

In 1977, Nottingham Forest were promoted to the first division of English football. In 1978 they won the league. In 1979 they ruled Europe.

Clough assembled a team of all-sorts including youth products, other teams’ scraps and Britain’s first million pound footballer in Trevor Francis, and led them to back-to-back European successes.

In that 1979 campaign they were drawn with all-conquering European champions Liverpool in the first round, but Forest dispatched the Reds 2-0 on aggregate before overcoming Swedish side Malmo in the final.

In 1980, Forest defended their title – becoming the first side to have won more European trophies than domestic leagues – by beating a Hamburg side containing Ballon d’Or winner Kevin Keegan.

Though no tactical mastermind – he liked to play the ball on the deck and counter, but it was certainly not ‘Juego de Posicion’ – Clough’s ability to motivate and mould championship-winning sides from humble beginnings is unmatched.

As for self-confidence? He makes Jose Mourinho look like a wallflower.

2. ARRIGO SACCHI 

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The thought of playing attacking football was anathema to Italian football before Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan revolution.

Sacchi, a former shoe salesman tasked with resuscitating a fallen giant, managed to convince a veteran team full of Catenaccio-sworn legends to embrace a new philosophy – admittedly with some help from owner Silvio Berlusconi’s deep pockets.

Embroidered by the talents of Dutch trio Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit, Sacchi’s formulated tactically astute sides who were just as comfortable changing shape without the ball as they were with it.

Famously his ‘shadow play’ training sessions – where his players would practise their positioning with an imaginary ball – bamboozled the Real Madrid scout in attendance before Milan took them to task in a staggering 5-0 victory.

That was in 1989, a match that produced perhaps the best headed goal of all-time from Van Basten. Steaua Bucharest were promptly swept aside in the final by one of the finest teams Europe has ever seen.

The Rossoneri cemented their legacy a year later. Alessandro Costacurta, Van Basten, Rijkaard was the combination for the mesmerizing goal that saw them defend the European Cup against Benfica. It took another 27 years before a team defended the trophy once more.

3. BOB PAISLEY 

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Most Liverpool supporters will claim that Bill Shankly, not Paisley, is the greatest manager the club has ever seen. As far as European competition is concerned, the answer is cut and dry.

It could be said that Shankly laid the foundations while Paisley paved the club with gold. Having played second fiddle to Shankly for 15 years, Paisley did what his predecessor could never quite do – rule Europe.

Paisley – a Liverpool player turned self-taught physiotherapist turned manager extraordinaire – brought the type of legends to Anfield now spoken about in hushed tones, such as Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen, and Graeme Souness.

They were at the fulcrum of Liverpool’s first European Cup success in 1977 after a 3-1 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach. Despite the departure of Kevin Keegan to Hamburg, the Ballon d’Or winner’s heir, King Kenny, scored the winner against Brugge the following year.

Paisley’s ostensibly curmudgeonly nature was said to have sometimes rubbed players up the wrong way, but it worked. After a two-year ‘drought’, Liverpool won the European crown back from Forest after beating Real Madrid in the 1981 final.

Until Zinedine Zidane’s hattrick, no manager had won three European Cups with the same club except for Paisley. Not bad for an assistant.

4. CARLO ANCELOTTI 

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Ancelotti’s floor is as lofty as his left eyebrow. The Italian is seen as a safe pair of hands, evidenced by the fact that he has worked for some of the biggest clubs in the world outside of his homeland: Chelsea, PSG, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

To say he is a jack of all trades, however, is to merely damn him with faint praise. His extraordinary success in Europe, on three occasions and with two teams, speaks for how much of a tactical chameleon he truly is.

Upon arrival in Milan, Ancelotti took one look at attacking midfielder Andreas Pirlo and cultivated arguably the world’s best deep-lying playmaker.

With heel-snappers Gennaro Gattuso and Clarance Seedorf in support, as well as a fearsome back-line, the Rossoneri suffocated the opposition, resulting in Ancelotti’s first European Cup triumph over Juventus – on penalties – in 2003.

After the agony of Istanbul in 2005, Ancelotti returned with Kaka – the world’s best attacker at the time – for a successful tilt two years later. A 4-3-2-1 ‘Christmas tree’ formation gave the forward line more oomph after Andriy Shevchenko departed the club. A Ronaldo-led Manchester United were semi-final victims, before Filippo Inzaghi’s double exacted revenge on Liverpool in the final.

His third success came at Real Madrid, and as at Milan, he relished working with existing tools at the Bernabeu. Free-roaming on the left of a 4-3-3, it can be argued that Ronaldo’s best years came under Ancelotti.

That combination helped clinch Real’s fabled La Decima in 2014, downing city rivals Atletico Madrid 4-1 after extra-time. A safe pair of hands controlled by a formidable mind.

5. ZINEDINE ZIDANE 

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No matter how many European titles – if any – Zidane wins during his second stint in the Spanish capital, it feels as if his tactical acumen will forever be scrutinised.

It would be kind to call him an innovator, and he received the job despite minimal experience with Madrid’s B side. His critics are confounded by one telling stat, however – his unbelievable Champions League record.

He has not only won the trophy three times, but three times in a row. No single manager has ever done that, and it is a record unheard of since the great Los Blancos sides of the 1950s. Zidane has never lost a Champions League tie or final.

How did it happen? The stars have certainly aligned for him in some ways, having the benefit of a stable and relatively injury-free side over the course of his three glittering years.

But as the Galacticos era in the early 2000s proved, a surfeit of talent does not necessarily translate into a surfeit of success, and the respects he commands – having been the best midfielder of his generation certainly helped – has put a lid on dressing room egos.

Nor has he been cowed by the higher-ups. The likes of James Rodriguez were jettisoned in favour of the rough-and-tumble Casemiro, giving Madrid a crucial defensive shield and oft-overlooked balance.

Atletico, then Juventus, then Liverpool fell to this juggernaut of stars. If Zidane revs them up again for a fourth trophy, this list is his to conquer.

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Champions League Best Ever... Moments from Wayne Rooney to Jerzy Dudek

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Jerzy Dudek

The two sides entering the Metropolitano Stadium on June 1 can legitimately be pinned up against some of the great European sides witnessed during the competition’s rich history.

Ahead of this blockbuster encounter between Tottenham and Liverpool we’re running a series on Europe’s elite competition called the ‘Best Ever…’ and on this occasion we’re examining the greatest moments to have emerged from the tournament.

Trimming the list down to five is an enormously tricky task and any one of the five picked hold claim to top spot.

But here is our look at the five best European Cup/Champions League moments.

1. PUYOL’S PERFECT GESTURE

The greatest moment in Champions League history wasn’t a goal or a save, or a game-clinching moment. It didn’t even take place within the 90 minutes.

When Pep Guardiola’s brilliant Barcelona claimed their fourth title after beating Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley in 2011, Carles Puyol was about to become the first player to touch the trophy in triumph at Wembley. Except, the Blaugrana skipper had been planning something else for a few weeks should his side be victorious.

Barca left-back Eric Abidal had been diagnosed with liver cancer in March 2011, but recovered in time to play the full 90 minutes of the final.

Captain Puyol didn’t start because of a knee injury and passed the captain’s armband to Xavi. However, Guardiola substituted Puyol on in the 88th minute with the game won. Xavi immediately returned the armband to Puyol, conceding the right to lift the trophy as well.

Puyol has since said his most special moment in his 15 years as a Barca player was the moment he handed Abidal the captain’s armband to allow him to lift the trophy.

“When Xavi said I should lift the cup, I knew at once what I had to do,” said Puyol. “It was a special moment for me, a legendary moment, you could say. It showed why football is the most beautiful game.”

2. DUDEK’S BRUCE ALMIGHTY AUDITION

Steven Gerrard’s determination and Liverpool’s spirit are credited with being the catalyst behind the Reds’ stunning comeback to topple superior AC Milan in the 2005 final.

But Jerzy Dudek’s saves in the penalty shootout and Bruce Grobbelaar-inspired antics don’t often get the credit they deserve.

“Carra (Jamie Carragher) came up to me like he was crazy,” Dudek has said of the shootout. “He grabbed me and said, ‘Jerzy, Jerzy, Jerzy – remember Bruce [Grobbelaar]. He did crazy things to put them off in 1984. You have to do the same’. He told me I would be the hero.”

And how right he was.

Dudek was in character from the very first spot kick when he approached referee Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez appearing to gesture that his gloves were slippery and he wanted a towel. He danced along his line in an attempt to fluster Serginho, who slammed his kick over the bar, and tried to psyche out Milan’s players by handing them the ball as they walked towards the spot.

Andrea Pirlo’s tame effort was saved by a crouching Dudek. Jon Dahl Tomasson and Kaka both scored – the famous Grobbelaar spaghetti legs movement hadn’t put off the Brazilian. But he saved from Andriy Shevchenko, who still looked shell-shocked from Dudek’s remarkable double save from him in extra time, to complete a remarkable triumph.

3. ROO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT IT?

“Wayne Rooney has scored for Manchester United. And it’s not the last time you’ll hear that,” were the words of commentator Clive Tyldesley. Indeed, it wasn’t the last time we’d hear that. In fact, we heard it twice more that night as the teenager, a few weeks shy of his 19th birthday, completed a hat-trick on his Red Devils’ debut in a 6-2 Champions League win over Fenerbahce.

He would go on to score 250 more in a glittering 13-year career at Old Trafford which saw him surpass Sir Bobby Charlton as the club – and even England’s – top scorer with 253. There were some spectacular and crucial strikes among the haul, as well as 12 major trophies, but that night lives long in the memory for United fans.

All eyes were on Rooney, making his first appearance in a United shirt since his £27 million move from Everton that 2004 summer, but this was no awe-struck teenager, paralysed by fear featuring in the same XI as Ryan Giggs and Ruud van Nistelrooy. It was his moment, and he owned it.

He ran onto the Dutchman’s delightful through ball to punch in his first, rifling in his second 11 minutes later after dummying a defender. Before the hour he’d curled in a brilliant free-kick for his hat-trick goal.

4. A REAL APPETITE FOR SUCCESS

Injuries, mistakes, poor form and luck have all played a part in defeats in major finals, but one of the European Cup’s greatest moments almost never happened – because of a sandwich, allegedly.

Ahead of the 1987 final between Porto and Bayern Munich, so the story goes, Porto’s Algerian forward Rabah Madjer got a bad case of the midnight munchies.

Ravenous Rabah was caught sneaking out of the team’s camp by his assistant coach, who was furious, and told the manager, Artur Jorge, who was similarly angered.

So incensed by Rabah’s rabid cravings, the club apparently wanted the mercurial forward sacked, but fans protested and the starving striker received a stay of execution.

It was a good job he did as he carved up Bayern and served up the equalising goal, and also laid the winner on a plate for Brazil’s Juary, as Porto won 2-1 to feast on their first title.

The 60-year-old is surely still dining out on his goal, an impish back-heeled finish. The best thing since sliced bread? Certainly in Arab football as Madjer remains the only Arab player to win the European Cup.

5. I AIN’T GETTING ON NO PLANE FOOL

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Fear can often have a crippling effect, while on the other hand it can be a magnificent motivator. For Celtic legend Jimmy Johnstone, both were true in terms of his morbid fear of flying.

Hoops manager Jock Stein used this to great effect during his side’s 1968/69 European Cup campaign, when he told Johnstone before the home leg of their second round clash with Red Star Belgrade that ‘Jinky’ would be allowed to stay at home for the Yugoslavia trip if Celtic won by four goals or more.

The elusive winger went on to arguably produce his finest performance in a green and white shirt as he netted twice and provided assists for two more as the hosts hammered Red Star 5-1.

They would need more than bribes and fear of flying to wing their way past AC Milan in the quarter-finals though – the Rossoneri won 1-0 on aggregate and went on to lift the trophy.

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