Tottenham, Dimitar Berbatov, and Wembley 2008 0

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Tottenham and Chelsea return to Wembley this weekend to face each other in a domestic cup final for the first time since 2008.

Irrespective of the league cup’s debatable prestige, winning is winning and there’s never anything second-rate about watching your side climb those steps and lift a trophy.

Naturally, then, that 2008 final is a very precious memory for Tottenham’s fans and, while Champions League qualification and memorable European nights would follow, nothing that has happened in the last seven years has diluted it.

Talk of that day and you invariably think of Jonathan Woodgate’s bundled winner and Robbie Keane’s uninhibited joy, but maybe Dimitar Berbatov’s equalising penalty stands above everything else?

In the Premier League era, Tottenham have been the club of unlikely defeat.  Over the past twenty years, they have been the team who - at the decisive moment - have always found new and ever more inventive ways to fail.  As a consequence, the fanbase’s default state is to brace for disappointment.

Dimitar Berbatov was - and remains - a seductively talented player.  During his Spurs prime, the Bulgarian was a forward of such exaggerated, effortless class, that he seemed immune to the usual restricting forces of pressure.  He had an other-worldly quality which, during his time at North London, opposed the long-held belief that every big moment was too big for every Tottenham player.

Even so, with the ball on the penalty-spot in the seventieth minute there wasn’t a Spurs fan in the stadium or sat at home who didn’t feel the chill of impending despair.  This would be another moment with which they would be flogged for years to come, another point of ridicule to be filed away in that big bank of humiliation.

“…and Berbatov scores with such impudent ease.”

Startling.

Berbatov’s stuttered run-up and dismissive finish was typical of the player, but it was also jarringly unfamiliar.  Seeing a Tottenham player handle that situation with such swaggering arrogance was wonderfully novel and, at the time, it was difficult to imagine that such a moment could ultimately be followed by anything other than victory.

Equalisers change games, of course they do, but that penalty has always had a special resonance.  In the seasons prior to that final, Spurs had frequently radiated with inferiority whenever they’d faced Chelsea, and - with the exception of the 2-1 win at White Hart Lane in 2006 - their palpable lack of conviction undermined them time-after-time.

Berbatov’s penalty was the counter-point to that inferiority. Converting that chance was crucial, but scoring in the manner that he did had an almost immeasurable value.  It was a vivid demonstration of self-belief and the prelude to everything that happened over the next fifty minutes.

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