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2018/19 Spurs vs Ajax, Barcelona vs Liverpool: Was this the best-ever pair of UEFA Champions League semi-finals?

Two impossible-looking second-leg turnarounds and two remarkable late winners: was there ever a pair of UEFA Champions League semi-finals with quite the same level of drama?

Xherdan Shaqiri congratulates  Divock Origi after Liverpool's improbably semi-final winner against Barcelona
Xherdan Shaqiri congratulates Divock Origi after Liverpool's improbably semi-final winner against Barcelona Getty Images

A heroic second-leg turnaround at Anfield and a stunning finale in Amsterdam: the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League semi-finals concluded in dramatic fashion with Liverpool and Tottenham setting up an all-English final.

The 1998/99 semis had set a benchmark for intrigue, Manchester United coming from 2-0 down in Turin to eliminate Juventus the night after Bayern completed a tight victory against a mighty Dynamo Kyiv side.

However, 2018/19 offered drama on a different scale, both sides making it through despite trailing by three goals at some point in their ties.

Semi-final records and statistics

First legs

Tottenham 0-1 Ajax
(Van de Beek 15)

Highlights: Tottenham 0-1 Ajax

"We made them look a lot better," grumbled Christian Eriksen at full time after his old side took the wind from Tottenham's sails in London. It was Spurs' first European Cup semi-final in 57 years, since losing to eventual winners Benfica in 1962, and the occasion seemed to get to them.

Slow to start, Mauricio Pochettino's side went behind after the impressive Donny van der Beek calmly finished a flowing move. The hosts were a little more lively after the interval, but rarely troubled Ajax, who came very close to doubling their advantage when David Neres hit the post.

Barcelona 3-0 Liverpool 
(Suárez 26, Messi 75 82)

Highlights: Barcelona 3-0 Liverpool

Barcelona had not won in four previous meetings with Liverpool, but made amends at the Camp Nou, former Red Luis Suárez nodding them in front before Lionel Messi snapped up a rebound to make it 2-0 and then delivered what looked to be the decisive blow with a magnificently-struck free-kick, his 600th goal for the club in all competitions.

The scoreline, however, was somewhat misleading, UEFA.com's Barcelona reporter Graham Hunter concluding "Liverpool could have won, possibly should have" after Marc-André ter Stegen repeatedly denied the visitors at the start of the second half.

The highest-scoring UEFA Champions League semi-finals

Getty Images

13 goals: Liverpool 7-6agg Roma, 2017/18 (5-2, 2-4)
10 goals: Juventus 6-4agg Monaco, 1997/98 (4-1, 2-3)

Second legs

Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona (agg: 4-3)
(Origi 7 79, Wijnaldum 54 56)

Highlights: Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona

Liverpool did not despair too much about the absences of Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino, manager Jürgen Klopp saying with a shrug: "As long as we have 11 players on the pitch we will try." They did that and more, Divock Origi's early goal laying down a marker before Georginio Wijnaldum came off the bench to level the tie on the night. Origi then won it late on, steering in Trent Alexander-Arnold's quickly-taken corner.

"We did so well," beamed Origi, who was a peripheral figure for much of the season. "We knew it would be a special night. We wanted to fight for the injured guys. We fought so hard." Klopp, meanwhile, was left flattened: "The whole performance, the whole game, was actually too much. It was overwhelming. I said to the boys before the game that it was impossible, but because it was them, they had a chance. I've watched so many games in my life but I can't remember any like this."

Ajax 2-3 Tottenham (agg: 3-3, Spurs win on away goals)
(De Ligt 5, Ziyech 35; Moura 55, 59, 90+6)

Highlights: Ajax 2-3 Tottenham

Hopes of a Spurs revival took a pre-match hit when Harry Kane was ruled out, and the writing seemed to be on the wall by the break after Matthijs de Ligt and Hakim Ziyech stretched Ajax's aggregate lead to 3-0 with three-quarters of the tie gone. Lucas Moura, though, struck twice in the space of five minutes to reel Ajax back in then completed his hat-trick in the final seconds of added time, earning a vanishingly rare 10/10 rating in European sports paper L'Équipe as a result.

"Football is amazing – it gives us a moment like this," said Moura at full time. "We cannot imagine it. It's the best moment in my career." Eriksen echoed those sentiments: "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."

The aftermath

Tottenham 0-2 Liverpool
(Salah 2pen, Origi 87)

Liverpool v Tottenham: The full story of the 2019 final

Spurs conceded a penalty inside 30 seconds, Salah stepping up to convert from the spot: the earliest goal in Champions League final history. Semi-final heroes Moura and Origi came on after the interval, with the Belgian proving to be a central figure once more as he tucked away Liverpool's clinching second late on.

"I don't want to explain why we won it; I only want to enjoy that we won it," said Klopp, whose side won despite a far-from vintage performance in Madrid. "We'll celebrate together, we'll have a sensational night. I feel mostly relief, relief for my family. The last six times we flew on holiday with only a silver medal it didn't feel too cool."

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