What Mauricio Pochettino’s side did goes a long way to eclipsing what Liverpool did against Barcelona, stunning the Dutch in a second-half comeback
Half an hour after the full-time whistle and some Ajax fans still haven’t moved. They are rubbing their faces and this nightmare is running through their minds on a loop.
The floor underneath is now sticky. It’s been pelted with gallons of beer that’s dried in. There’s a reason they serve it in plastic cups in stadiums.
You might expect anger but there’s none there, yet. They will be angry when they come to terms with it. They will look back on posts hit and spaces emptied and mistakes made.
They will wake up for years to come in the dead of night and ask themselves why? And how?
Ajax played this season’s Champions League with a sense of destiny. They were everyone’s second favourite… everyone’s other than the fans of the teams they were playing.
Tottenham knew that they were up against that and a whole lot more.
They were up against a fresh team whose title challenge in the domestic league was put on hiatus so they could better concentrate on winning the Champions League.
The last time they walked off a field it was with the Dutch Cup held aloft. The last time Tottenham walked off it was against Bournemouth where they’d just been beaten and there were only nine of them.
You cannot for a second take your eye off the ball, you cannot take it for granted. You cannot – with only 45 minutes to go and with a three-goal headstart – assume anything.
It’s not just Liverpool who can claim to have that in this season’s Champions League. What Spurs did goes a long way to eclipsing what Liverpool did against Barcelona.
Maybe it was nerves for Ajax; maybe it was that they realised they were tantalisingly close to the most important match this club has played in the best part of a quarter century.
Whatever it was, they came down suddenly with what will henceforth be known as a case of the Wijnaldums; succumbing to two pistol-shot goals at the start of the second half of a Champions League semi-final which threaten to invert the order of things.
For Gini last night, read Lucas Moura tonight.
But where Liverpool had largely played the better football over two legs, Spurs were given a runaround. Where Liverpool were unlucky, Spurs only had themselves to blame.
They lost two first-half goals here in Amsterdam and the jig appeared up.
It’s sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly where matches like this are won and lost. But for sure Ajax were looking at the big stadium clocks and hoping the seconds would go by twice as quick. They tried coming out, they even hit the post.
But there was a sense of inevitability from the moment Lucas swept a ball home on the break. He was found expertly by Dele Alli, both of whom now have a chance of being recognised as this competition’s best player.
Andre Onana’s mix-up gave the Brazilian the chance to repeat the trick and ensure Spurs needed only one.
That’s when the beer showers started. The anger in the stands was showing and the mentality on the field was a long way away from what was required.
The board went up. Five minutes. Onana was handed an under-inflated ball to restart play with a late goal kick. Ajax made another mess of holding possession and Lucas had his chance.
The pocket of Spurs fans in the corner could scarcely believe what they were seeing. Their team had just earned a place in their first-ever Champions League final.
And how? Who knows.
Their form lately has been nothing short of woeful. They are slipping to defeat after defeat to teams they should be battering in the Premier League.
Their injuries are stacking up. The fit ones are playing badly. They are lucky the season is ending on the home front because if it were to go on any longer they would sink like a stone.
They survived thanks to VAR against Manchester City. The control they exerted in the first leg against City stands alone as their best moment of football since the quarter-finals began.
The second leg was a mess and they were hammered by a City team who did exactly enough on their own soil. It slipped from their grasp in London.
And that’s where Ajax ran them ragged. Spurs fans bickered over who should be dropped or sold quickest. You wouldn’t find a Spurs fan here who genuinely thought there was something in it for them tonight.
But the way they up-and-undered Ajax last week set the template. They located the great hope’s weak chin. Tonight they knocked him out.
Fernando Llorente was unmanageable. Lucas eluded too many of those in white and red. Alli and Christian Eriksen were penetrative. The clock wound down but Ajax fans knew it was coming.
Tottenham, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham, are in the Champions League final.
How? Who knows.