Feature photo: Getty Images
Ajax don’t want to stop. The white-and-red Amsterdammers won 1-0 in London over Tottenham, and can now legitimately aim at reaching the Champions League Final for the first time in 23 years. A lone goal by midfielder Donny van de Beek stunned the brand-new Tottenham Stadium and the Semifinal debuting Spurs to secure his side a strong advantage in view of next Wednesday’s retour match.
Ajax’s number six, who had played the same trick on Juventus two weeks ago, made it again to the scorecard after 15 minutes, converting a filtering pass by Hakim Ziyech. Tottenham’s protests on grounds of an alleged offside were voided by referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz, as a silent check with VAR confirmed that Kieran Trippier’s heel kept de Beek in play.
The visitors came close to make it two in the 24th minute, again with their number six, but this time World Champion Hugo Lloris parried back his shot. De Beek’s second chance came at the end of a first portion of the game totally dominated by Ajax, which accumulated a 66% ball possession.
Coach Maurizio Pochettino may complain about the fundamental absence of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min among his lines, but the truth his – Tottenham were outclassed by Erik ten Hag’s Totaalvoetbal 2.0, made of quick passes, aggressive pressing, and sudden counterattacks.
Pochettino also lost central defender Jan Vertonghen, who crashed into Ajax’s goalie André Onana, and had to leave the pitch sustained by his medical staff. He was replaced by Moussa Sissoko, a change that indeed gave new life forces to the staggering Lilywhites.
But surely Tottenham had been imagining their first time among the top European competition’s fantastic four in a different way. They were indeed dressed to kill for the occasion, hosted by the impressive scenario of their brand-new stadium. The home supporters did their part, displaying a beautiful choreography on the stands which read “To Dare Is to Do,” and following through their player’s entrance on the pitch before kickoff with a thunderous, thrilling chorus When the Spurs Go Marching In – so loud to even cover the Champions League Anthem notes.
The Spurs managed to change the match’s inertia in the second half, showing their faces around Onana’s area more often, but the Cameroonian goalkeeper was never seriously threatened. On the other hand, Ajax went again close to double up, when a lightning fast combination among Noussair Mazraoui, Dusan Tadic, and David Neres ended with a conclusion of the latter which hit Lloris’ post.
The white-and-reds kept the game in control during the last minutes, showing that they can also suffer when the opponent tries to hit the gas. Ajax will face Tottenham again next Wednesday at the Johann Cruijff Arena, in what will be their last European seasonal show at home in any case.
They will do so with a solid foot already planted in the Final, hoping to celebrate the historical achievement in the place entitled to their most shining talent – whom, wherever he is now, must have had some good fun watching these terrible kids reproducing, if only for a few minutes now and then, his concept of Total Football.
Europe will miss this Ajax’s shimmering lineup, as most likely many of their best talents (Captain Matthijs De Ligt and Frenkie de Jong above all) will change jersey in the upcoming transfer market summer. But for the time being, Amsterdam has more than one reason to keep dreaming. If Tottenham agree, of course.
April 30, 2019 – UEFA Champions League 2018-19 Semifinals
SCORER: 15′ Van de Beek (A)
|TOTTENHAM (3-4-2-1): Lloris; Trippier (80′ Foyth), Sanchez, Alderweireld; Vertonghen (39′ Sissoko), Wanyama, Rose (79′ Davies), Eriksen; Dele, Lucas Moura; Llorente (Gazzaniga, Walker-Peters, Skipp, Dier) Coach: Pochettino|
|AJAX (4-2-3-1): Onana; Veltman, De Ligt, Blind, Tagliafico; Schone (65′ Mazraoui), De Jong; Ziyech (87′ Huntelaar), Van De Beek, Neres; Tadic (Varela, Magallan, Sinkgraven, de Wit, Dolberg) Coach: ten Hag|
REFEREE: Mateu Lahoz (Spain)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Tagliafico, Veltman (A); Extra Time: 1st Half 5′, 2nd Half 3′