UEFA Champions League Classics: Ajax 2-3 Tottenham

Watch a nail-biting 2019 semi-final decider on UEFA.tv – after reading this.

Tottenham were without their star player and a goal down following the home leg of their 2018/19 UEFA Champions League semi-final decider against Ajax. Cue drama.

WATCH THE GAME IN FULL


Context

Highlights: Tottenham - Ajax 0:1
Highlights: Tottenham - Ajax 0:1

Aiming to reach their first ever European Cup final, Spurs seemed to have come to the end of their tether, a 1-0 home defeat to Erik ten Hag’s outrageously gifted young Ajax side leaving them with a mountain to climb in Amsterdam – one that seemed that little bit steeper with striker Harry Kane out injured. Ajax had lost just once in 24 home games, and were fresh from winning the Dutch Cup. Mauricio Pochettino’s only pre-match consolation was that his side could go for broke: “We need to feel more freedom to play, because we have nothing to lose.”

Key players

Lucas Moura: The tricky winger was used to playing a supporting role at Spurs, but had some extraordinary moments – not least the first hat-trick in their new stadium, during an April 2019 meeting with Huddersfield. He would top that in Amsterdam.

Christian Eriksen: Smothered for most of the first leg, Spurs ex-Ajax playmaker would be called upon to lead the resistance as the tie concluded in his old home stadium. The Denmark international had inspired Spurs to new heights in 2018/19.

Matthijs de Ligt after putting Ajax ahead
Matthijs de Ligt after putting Ajax aheadAFP/Getty Images

Matthijs de Ligt: The youngest captain in UEFA Champions League history, the 19-year-old defender was turning heads around Europe. He scored the winner against Juventus to take Ajax to their first UEFA Champions League semis since 1996/97.

What happened

Ajax extended their aggregate advantage as early as the fifth minute when captain Matthijs de Ligt headed in a corner, and ten minutes before half-time it was 2-0, Hakim Ziyech on target. Spurs refused to be downhearted, and Lucas Moura struck twice in the space of five second-half minutes to level the score on the night.

Ajax retained the aggregate lead, and with both sides committed to attack, chances continued to flow at both ends, Ziyech's 20-metre shot coming back off the post before Jan Vertonghen struck the crossbar. Just as it looked as if Ajax would resist, however, Moura swept into the net in the final seconds of added time, completing his hat-trick and a comeback for the ages.

Reaction

Emotional Pochettino hails Tottenham 'heroes'
Emotional Pochettino hails Tottenham 'heroes'

Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham manager: "Thank you, football, thank you to my players. I have a group of players who are heroes. The second half was amazing. It is impossible to live this type of emotion without football. To describe this in words is difficult."

Lucas Moura, Tottenham forward: "We gave everything on the pitch and deserved this moment – we are family. It's difficult to play here against Ajax but I always believed in my team-mates. Football is amazing – it gives us a moment like this. We cannot imagine. It's the best moment in my career."

Christian Eriksen, Tottenham midfielder: "It was a ridiculous game; we were really far down, we tried to fight back, we were just lucky. Lucas Moura – he's how we won the game. I hope he gets a statue in England after this, we are blown away."

Elsewhere that evening

England had barely recovered from Liverpool’s 4-0 success against Barcelona the previous night when Spurs’ triumphed. The only other games played in UEFA competitions that Wednesday were in the UEFA Women’s Uncder-17 Championship finals in Bulgaria: Bulgaria 0-3 Spain, Denmark 0-1 Portugal, Germany 2-3 Netherlands, Austria 1-2 England.

Aftermath

Liverpool v Tottenham: The full story of the 2019 final
Liverpool v Tottenham: The full story of the 2019 final

Moura became only the tenth player to receive a 10/10 player rating from France’s notoriously tough L'Équipe sports paper, but he did not make the starting lineup for the final. Harry Kane was fit for the decider in Madrid, but Liverpool were too strong for Spurs, goals from Mohamed Salah and Divock Origi punctuating a 2-0 win for the Reds.

That extraordinary Ajax squad was left much depleted following the summer transfer window; De Ligt left for Juventus, while the other crown jewel – midfielder Frenkie de Jong – was transferred to Barcelona.