Son Heung-min had little time for romance in the history of Brentford. In its 132-year history, the Championship club had never played in a major semifinal, but they felt they were on the verge of victory halfway through the second half.
Ivan Toney went in for the would-be winner from near range, canceling out the 12th minute opening goal of Moussa Sissoko.
And again, again, it didn’t.
In this Carabao Cup semifinal, most people had forgotten that VAR had been used.
It had not been seen in this competition before.
But he pulled up and found that Toney was a fraction ahead of the last Spurs defender, Sissoko.
For Brentford, it was a blow, and it didn’t take long for Son to twist the knife.
It was the Tottenham attacker’s standard run after a pass from Tanguy Ndombele, and when he cleared the foul of Henrik Dalsgaard, everyone knew what was going to happen next. Brentford was devastated, headed for their first defeat in 17 games and Spurs could already look forward to the final against one of the Manchester clubs on April 25. The finish was calm and precise.
The anger of Brentford was summed up six minutes from time by what happened. I guess Josh Dasilva was going to play the ball, but he stepped over the ball and raked his studs across Pierre-Emile Højbjerg’s shin, who then walked down in a huff.
The Brentford bench was angry as play began and Højbjerg was on the field. There was a feint they sensed. ‘I know him,’ screamed their Danish mentor, Thomas Frank, who had coached Højbjerg in the Danish youth system.
He knew, in other words, that he wasn’t hurt. ‘That’s a shame,’ shouted one of Frank’s employees from the back office.
It was none of the type. The VAR took one look and did not take long to show a red card to Dasilva, while Højbjerg limped off the pitch to expose a long gash after rolling down his sock.
Brentford was just letting heartbreak get the best of them.
By the break, Frank had recovered and hugged Højbjerg. There was no war, it was a heated affair, but it didn’t matter to Højbjerg and Tottenham either. Since they had what they needed, Højbjerg and Tottenham could take a few bruises – a shot at the final and a chance to break the 13-year trophy drought of the club.
José Mourinho, since it was so critical, named this game his most important game at the club. It will be an even more critical one now as he strives to reinforce the mindset of the squad and give himself a piece of history for the trophy.
Mourinho won four times, the same amount of times as Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson, in the competition. Five times, no boss has won it.
He was asked what the key was. He responded, taking it seriously, and so he did with his starting eleven, which basically worked at full speed.
Mourinho said he was unhappy with it, but they dominated the first half and responded when Brentford threatened to turn the game around. It was not a classic Spurs display.
When he headed home a Sergio Reguilon header, Sissoko scored his first goal since December 2019, and Spurs should have added to their tally before the break.
Son hit a flick straight at David Raya, while after Lucas Moura’s header was deflected off a Son corner by Toney, the Brentford goalkeeper brilliantly saved.
After half-time, more pace came into the game, although it still didn’t feel like Brentford had been waiting for the semi-finals for so long. When the only screams that can be heard come from the players, this is what happens.
Brentford was somewhat fortunate that Sergi Canos didn’t see a second yellow card in the 47th minute for a foul on Lucas, and then came the first of two great chances to equalize.
On the touchline, Bryan Mbeuno got the best of Davinson Sánchez, and when he was played in by the Spurs center back, it looked like he had been invited to take a penalty.
Mbeuno wanted more and crossed for Toney, who’d been foiled by Serge Aurier’s saving block. “He was very honest not to dive,” Mourinho said of Mbeuno.
Aurier shot high and Son missed the target with his volley, but Brentford had now woken up and thought they had their chance when Ethan Pinnock headed back a corner. Hugo Lloris could only palm the ball away and Toney was on hand to convert. The happiness was short-lived.
The curious thing from Spurs’ point of view is that it only took them three games to reach the final. On the other hand, this has been a season like no other.
Brentford had four Premier League clubs out of the way