Just twenty four hours after Liverpool’s fantastic 4-0 victory over Barcelona, Tottenham came back from similar odds in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final versus Ajax in Amsterdam. Two first half goals from Matthijs De Ligt and Hakim Ziyech had looked to put the tie well out of Spurs’ reach, however a fearless Pochettino side came out knowing they had nothing to lose in the second half and by the end of a truly remarkable evening a forty-five minute Lucas Moura hat trick had sent them to their first Champions League final ever on away goals.
At half time at the Johan Cruijff Arena nobody, in or out of North London, could have foreseen what was about to take place. Ajax’s superbly talented eleven walked off the park looking like were already practically in the final, something they that will reflect on and shudder at. As soon as the second half whistle went Spurs, who had had their chances in the first half, came out with a visible tenacity and bravery. By ten minutes into the half a reeling Ajax were camped in their own half. By that time Lucas Moura had given Spurs hope by latching onto Dele Alli’s assist to slot confidently into the bottom corner with his left foot. The goal shifted the developing dynamic of the game even further and Spurs were now completely dominating an Ajax side, that for one of the first times in the competition looked like they lacked the sufficient experience to deal with what they were facing.
And just four minutes later Spurs were level on the night, with Moura managing to take advantage of Ajax’s damning failure to clear their lines after Fernando Llorente was denied from point blank range. Moura’s second left footed strike of the evening left Spurs just one away from a result that seemed unfathomable ten minutes previous. Ajax’s manager Erik ten Hag quickly made a couple of subs to try and steady the rocking ship and his side did recover in the middle and later stages of the second half with Ziyech hitting the post, firing just wide and testing Lloris in an epic finale.
When Jan Vertongen hit the bar on eighty-five minutes and then had his secondary effort cleared off the line it looked like Spurs might fall just short of a spot in the final versus Liverpool in Madrid. However, with a now exhausted Ajax unable to finish off the tie on the counter, the game then reverted to a desperate free for all as both sides tried to inch over the line. And it was Tottenham who sensationally prevailed in injury time, when Llorente brought down a hopeful ball to feed Alli who again flicked it into the path of Moura, who then completed a hatrick of left footed strikes (I think that’s his weaker foot, not actually too sure!) to send the away end and everyone Spurs related on the sidelines into raptures. Pochettino’s side held out with their manager in tears on the side line.
Moura and his side’s amazing second half show sparked images that summed up how much football can mean. Spurs players, staff and their manager bathed themselves in elation, now finally in position to win the big trophy that has eluded them under Poch. While conversely Ajax’s players looked utterly dereft of anything positive, with departing Frenkie De Jong helplessly looking like he just witnessed a pile up on the motorway. Ajax’s fairytale didn’t have the finish they wanted but few will forget the dazzling football they brought to the competition this season and will hopefully continue to in years to come, despite the likely slew of upcoming player exits.
For yesterday’s victors, who keep marching through wholly unchartered territory, they will see this epic Champions League adventure as vindication for admirable project that has been spearheaded by a manager who had to deal with the fact that no new players were added to his squad in the summer. Without the big game presence of Harry Kane, Spurs simply hung in there, rode their luck at times and showed their quality enough throughout the game to win out. Which are traditionally typical characteristics of a side who are destined to lift the trophy. However, of course they will now face a superb Liverpool side who have it all to prove themselves in the first all English European final since 2008. Spurs will hope that this unprecedented run at absolute glory still has enough legs to get the job done. But for now stakeholders of the club will no doubt revel in the fact they didn’t relent in the fight at the business end of the season and are now in position to make history.
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