Tottenham’s Cinderella season had nearly ticked past midnight when the English club completed a shocking comeback, delivering the second stunning result in the Champions League semifinal round in two days.
With stoppage time nearly complete, Lucas Moura fielded a desperate ball into the box and slid Tottenham’s third goal into the net for a hat trick and the decisive goal in a 3-2 win over Dutch side Ajax. It also turned the aggregate score in Tottenham’s favor, 3-3, with the crucial advantage in away goals.
The win sent Tottenham to its first Champions League final, where it will meet Liverpool. Liverpool shut out Barcelona, 4-0, on Tuesday to advance.
“We saw Liverpool last night, and it goes to show it’s not over until it’s over,” defender Danny Rose said (via The Guardian).
“Thank you football,” added a tearful Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Early on Wednesday, another comeback looked unrealistic.
Ajax started the game with a dazzling display of their talented “total football” scheme. Captain Matthijs de Ligt scored on a corner-kick header in the fifth minute. Hakim Ziyech scored again in the 35th minute.
Ajax was on a Cinderella run of its own, having defeated Real Madrid and Juventus to reach the semifinals.But Tottenham’s second half was overwhelming: a 45-plus minute onslaught of offense that yielded chance after chance, and finally some goals. Moura’s first two scores — a whistler off a bump from Dele Alli and a putback after a mad scramble for a rebound in the 6-yard box — came three minutes apart.
Tottenham’s next attacks were even more fierce. What seemed like a last-gasp effort — a header from Jan Vertonghen — clanked off the post, but the Spurs created one final try as stoppage time expired.
Alli flicked a ball to Moura, who barely got enough on his shot to beat the Ajax keeper to the right post. Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam fell silent. Tottenham bench players spilled on to the field.
“It was a ridiculous game,” midfielder Christian Eriksen said (via The Guardian). “We were far down and fought back, and we were just lucky. I feel sorry for Ajax, because they played better football than us over two games. But we created more chances. We were lucky and we scored.
“It’s a relief, and it’s great to be in the Champions League final. We wouldn’t have been able to look ourselves in the mirror afterwards if we’d lost four or five-nil. The ball fell in the right direction. It was tactics-free! Heart plus Lucas Moura. I hope he gets a statue in England after this. An English final will be fun.”
Here we go again: another wild Champions League semifinal.
Lucas Moura strikes again in the 58th minute, three minutes after his first goal, to pull to within one goal of the aggregate margin.
After a mad scramble in the 6-yard box, the ball fell to Moura’s feet, and he whacked a shot while spinning around into the net. Moments before the goal, Ajax supports sang, “Every little thing is gonna be all right.” But those chants have stopped now, as yet another Champions League match is set to come down to the wire.
And just like that in the 55th minute, Spurs are still alive. Lucas Moura tucked in a goal to cut the deficit to 2-1, 3-1 in aggregate.
Dele Alli ran with the ball for 20 yards up the middle of the pitch in to the 18-yard box, and looked to chop the ball around a defender and back to himself. But Moura ran on to the ball instead, and made no mistakes with it. Spurs need two more goals — not an unthinkable proposition — to move on.
Ajax’s famed “total football” technique was on display in the first half. The Dutch side was faster than Tottenham, more precise, even more motivated, and they cashed in for two impressive goals.
Spurs need three second-half scores if they want to advance to face Liverpool in the Champions League final.
Ajax scores again
Tottenham’s comeback looks even more unlikely now. Ajax looks superb, winning and holding possession and snuffing out every Spurs offensive foray. But their offense is a marvel, too, and their second goal was a work of art.
Donny van de Beek won the ball at midfield and tore into the 18-yard box, where he fed Dusan Tadic on his left. In one touch, Tadic found a streaking Hakim Ziyech, who smacked a shoulder-high torpedo into the right side of the net. It’s now a 2-0 lead for the Dutch side, and 3-0 on aggregate.
Ajax’s start is the stuff dreams are made of: five minutes in, and they’re on the board, ahead 1-0 in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal with Tottenham, and 2-0 in aggregate, including one away goal.
It was the 19-year-old captain Matthijs de Ligt who put them ahead with a brilliant header off a corner kick.Tottenham has a long hill to climb now if it wants to make the Champions League final an all-English affair.
With both Tottenham and Ajax working on Cinderella seasons, one might turn into a pumpkin after a Champions League semifinal second leg that promises drama and tension.
The Dutch side scored a 1-0 win in the first leg a week ago, a victory that felt like a triumph. That came on the heels of eliminating powerhouses Juventus and Real Madrid earlier in the tournament. They’ve once again mastered the “total football” style with crisp, inventive passing and startling efficiency, and could return to the final for the first time since 1996 by holding off Tottenham.
Spurs considered themselves lucky not to concede another goal on their home grounds and fall into a deeper hole headed toward the rematch in Amsterdam. For the second leg, though, scoring midfielder Son Heung-min will return from suspension, which will provide manager Mauricio Pochettino more depth. He navigated Tottenham past Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund to get this far. A win would go a long way toward helping the side shake off its “flaky Spurs” moniker, and could put Tottenham in its first Champions League final.The winner will face Liverpool, which mounted a shocking rally in the second leg of its semifinal with Barcelona on Tuesday to move into the final for a second straight year. Liverpool will attempt to win the tournament for the first time since 2005 at the June 1 final in Madrid. It will be the first final since 2013 without a Spanish representative. There hasn’t been an all-Premier League final since 2008.