- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

MADRID (AP) - Tottenham’s gritty performance in the Champions League was worthy of celebration, even if the match against Real Madrid ended only in a 1-1 draw.

The result against the defending champions on Tuesday left Tottenham in good position to make it to the knockout stages for the first time since 2010-11.

“That was our greatest challenge, to show ourselves that we could come here and compete against a team like Real Madrid at the Bernabeu,” Tottenham coach Mauricio Pochettino said. “That’s something that we had been missing, this feeling that we can compete at the highest level.”

Tottenham was a tough opponent and could have left the Spanish capital with a win if it wasn’t for a few missed chances near the end and a great performance by Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

“A point at the Bernabeu, you’d take that every day of the week,” said Tottenham forward Harry Kane, who himself had a great opportunity for the winner in the second half but was denied by Navas. “It shows how far we’ve come as a team.”

With its best team in a generation, Tottenham has been successful in the Premier League in recent years, finishing third and second the last two seasons, but it has struggled to make the leap to becoming a contender at the European level.

There were high expectations for Tottenham when it made it to the Champions League last season, but it disappointed and failed to get past the group stage.

“Last year, in six matches we won only seven points against teams like Monaco, Leverkusen and CSKA Moscow,” Pochettino said. “This year, we already won seven points after three matches against Borussia Dortmund, APOEL and Real Madrid. I think the team is more mature, we compete and that is the most important thing. We took a step forward.”

He said his young squad will only get better the more it plays important matches against the continent’s top clubs.

“We are a team in the middle of a rebuilding process, so this is a positive sign for the future. It reinforces our beliefs,” Pochettino said.

The Argentine coach, who is not afraid to constantly shuffle his squad’s formation, surprised in Madrid by adding forward Fernando Llorente to the starting lineup, giving the veteran Spaniard his first start in nearly a month. Llorente gave a different look to the team’s attack, allowing Kane to have more freedom up front.

“I knew you would be surprised with the starting 11,” the 45-year-old coach said. “It is important to be flexible, to have different ways of playing.”

The draw in Madrid left both teams tied at the top of Group H after three matches with seven points, six more than Borussia Dortmund and APOEL, which drew 1-1 in Cyprus.

Tottenham will host Madrid at Wembley in two weeks, with the winner likely securing first place in the group.

“This result gives us the confidence that we are on the right track and that we can keep improving,” Pochettino said. “The potential for this club going forward is huge.”

Tottenham’s next league game is at home against Liverpool on Saturday.


More AP Champions League coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/ChampionsLeague


Tales Azzoni on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tazzoni

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