Champions League: Moura hat-trick takes Spurs to its maiden final

Lucas Moura's second half hattrick helps Tottenham Hotspur set up a Champions League final against Liverpool at the Wanda Metrapolitano.

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Lucas Moura's two goals in four minutes has put Ajax on its toes.   -  Getty Images

 

◘ That's it from me tonight. It has been a whirlwind 24 hours, witnessing two brilliant comebacks - both by English teams. Liverpool will play Tottenham at the Wanda Metrapolitano on June 1. Well, June 2 technically as it kicks-off at 12.30 a.m. IST. We will have full coverage of that game, as usual, on our website. Until then, adios.

READ | How Lucas Moura became a Tottenham hero

MATCH REPORT: Lucas Moura's last-gasp strike took Tottenham Hotspur to the Champions League final for the first time in its history, completing his hat-trick and sealing an incredible 3-2 win over Ajax to leave the Dutch side heartbroken. Click here to read the full report.

In an interview this week, Pochettino indicated he would consider leaving Tottenham if it won the Champions League. He moves one step closer to winning this time. And then, what next?

STAT: Tottenham is the first team to come from two goals behind in a Champions League semifinal since Manchester United in 1999 against Juventus.

◘ Heartache for Ajax and its players are in tears on the pitch. Spurs’ players too, are in tears, but they are tears of joy. After going 2-0 down in the first half, Lucas Moura’s hat-trick – the third goal of which came in the sixth minute of added time – has sent Tottenham through to its first ever Champions League final. A mouth-watering Madrid final awaits!

◘ It has been an outstanding effort from Ajax, which right up until the last moments, looked set to be heading through. But this dramatic Champions League campaign had another twist, and it is Spurs who have set up an all English final against Liverpool, whose own comeback win over Barca yesterday may have just been topped!

◘ Harry Kane is on the pitch, Mauricio Pochettino is crying. Spurs fans are in raptures. But, after a few moments of overcoming the shock, the home faithful laud their young team, many of whom – the outgoing Frenkie de Jong included – are still tearful.

90'+10' FULL TIME! TOTTENHAM IS THROUGH TO ITS FIRST CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL. It will be a first all-English final since 2008.

90' + 7' Ajax is back on the attack. We’re into the eighth minute of added time. It has a throw and it is cleared! Moura is on the run, Spurs are up the pitch, and it is heading to the final!

90' + 6' Alli was again involved, flicking the ball down to the edge of the box. De Ligt failed to get there, and Moura took full advantage!

90' + 5' GOAL! LUCAS MOURA HATTRICK! Incredible. Just incredible! Lucas Moura has proved the hero, somehow getting to a loose ball first and slotting a precise finish into the bottom-left corner.

90' + 4' Spurs with a corner, and Lloris is coming up!

90' + 3' SAVE! Lloris keeps Spurs in it! After looking completely out of energy a moment ago, Ziyech is suddenly bursting forward at full pelt to get on the end of Sinkgraven’s pass. He slows, sets himself, and thumps a strike at goal, but Lloris makes a brilliant stop.

90' + 2' Ziyech somehow manages to keep the ball in play, but then his legs seem to drop out on him, and he collapses to the turf. Spurs capitalise, only for Eriksen to then send a slack pass out of play.

90' + 1' Into the first minute of five added on in Amsterdam. Ajax gets clear on the break, with Tadic slipping a neat pass through to De Jong, who had made a 60-yard run to get into the box. Alderweireld, though, tracked it, and made a superb block.

90' Substitution: That will be Van de Beek’s last involvement. The midfielder goes off to a resounding roar of appreciation. A defender – Magallan – is on. FIVE MINUTES ADDED ON!

89' We are heading into the final minutes of normal time now, and Ajax’s team is all back behind the ball as Spurs have a free-kick. It is cleared, though, with Van de Beek hoofing the ball up to Ziyech and Tadic, who force the ball out off of Davies for a throw.

87' HOW HAS THAT NOT GONE IN?! The ball fell to Vertonghen, who heads it against the crossbar from six yards out. The rebound falls back to the defender, but Veltman is in the right place to clear off the line. So so close to a place in the final!

86' After Ajax has another penalty appeal turned away at the other end, Son engineers space in the host’s area, and his shot is cleared for a corner.

85' There is no subtlety to Tottenham’s tactics. Llorente is up top, and at every opportunity his team-mates are finding him, punting long, looping passes to the centre forward, who more often than not is winning his battles with Blind or De Ligt. Ajax, though, is still a constant threat on the counter.

84' Desperate defending from Ajax! Moura gets the better of Sinkgraven, who for a moment looks as though he might dive in and concede a penalty. Spurs’ winger gets the ball to Llorente, who turns back on himself and tries to get a shot off, but a swarm of defenders crowd him out.

82' Substitution: Danny Rose makes way for Ben Davies.

81' Substitution: Lamela, who has returned from a lengthy injury lay off, has come on in place of Trippier.

Lamela is immediately involved, threading a pass into Llorente, who holds off his marker and tries to play it back to his team-mate. Blind, though, got to it.

80' More superb counter-attacking play from Ajax, as Ziyech takes a wonderful touch to trap a long ball. He has Tottenham’s defence on its heels, and the space opens up for him to shoot. This time, though, he decides to find Tadic, and that allows Vertonghen to make a vital tackle.

79' POST! Ajax gets on the attack, Van de Beek holding the play up before finding Ziyech. He takes a measured touch to set himself, before cracking an effort at goal. Lloris is beaten, but the ball rattles away off the upright.

78' Ajax is yet to have a shot on target in the second half, although it has certainly had its chance to get a third.

77' Another yellow card now. Ziyech dived in late on Rose, and receives a booking. Just over 10 minutes remain in Amsterdam, and Ajax is looking ragged!

76'  Yellow card. A booking for Rose, who let his temper get the better of him after conceding a free-kick, picking the ball up and thumping it into the turf.

75' Moura is running riot at the moment, drifting wide and constantly finding pockets of space to operate in. This time, he gets down the right, but despite having a decent angle from which to shoot, he elects to pass it, allowing Ajax’s defence to scramble it clear.

74' WIDE! Trippier’s delivery from the resulting set-piece is a good one, and Alderweireld – back at his former stomping ground – connects with his header. The Belgian can’t turn it on target, though.

73' After withstanding a spell of Ajax pressure, Tottenham is back on the front foot. Alli leads the way, and cleverly clips the ball off Taglaifico for a corner.

72' CLOSE! Lloris sends a weak punch straight back out to De Ligt, following Ziyech’s delivery. The defender twists one way and then the other, before hammering a low cross-shot that Spurs’ goalkeeper gets something on and, despite having the goal to aim at, Tagliafico cannot adjust his feet quickly enough to tuck home the rebound.

70' Ajax, with one moment of quality, breaks through Spurs’ lines, with Ziyech then floating a cross towards the back post. Sinkgraven was waiting for it, but Tadic intervened, and his heavy touch allowed Trippier to clear.

68' Tadic has now moved central, with Sinkgraven on the left flank. Ziyech, however, is the player pushing Ajax forward down the other wing, finding Mazraoui, who believes he is fouled in the Spurs area. The referee, though, dismisses the claims for a goal kick.

67' Substitution: Another change from Ten Hag, whose side is clearly panicking as Spurs up the pressure. Dolberg, who has been anonymous since the restart, goes off, with defender Sinkgraven coming on. Conservative change?

66' Son is down on the ground and he wants a penalty, but referee Felix Brych gives a foul the other way, with Tottenham’s number seven having lunged in on Veltman.

65' BLOCK! Llorente’s header falls nicely for Moura, who wastes no time in hammering the ball towards the target but, with less than a second to react, De Ligt launches himself forward and denies what looked to be a certain goal. He gets up and shouts at his teammates for letting that ball through.

64' CLOSE! Ajax almost scores a third! A slick move down the left results in Tadic once again finding Ziyech. This time, though, the Morocco international drags his first-time finish wide.

61' Ajax has a chance now, after Ziyech charges his way through a tackle and then lets rip with a long-range shot, which deflects wide.

STAT: All four of Moura's Champions League goals for Tottenham this season have come away from home.

60' Substitution: Moura's quickfire double has prompted Ten Hag into making a change. Schone is off, with Veltman – who will go to right-back – coming on. Mazraoui is now in midfield.

59' GOAL! MOURA, AGAIN!

Oh my word. I thought we’d witnessed the comeback of all comebacks yesterday, but incredibly, Spurs are now level! After a wonderful save by Onana to deny Llorente, Ajax failed to clear its lines, and Moura was able to latch onto the loose ball and, on the spin, unleash a pinpoint finish into the bottom-left corner.

57' Well, the pressure is on Ajax now, and it will have to show that, along with its free-flowing attacking football, it has the defensive grit to see this through. Spurs still need another two goals, without conceding another, to go through, but it is certainly capable of getting them.

55' GOAL! LUCAS MOURA PULLS ONE BACK FOR TOTTENHAM!

It’s 2-1 on the night, and 3-1 on aggregate now, and Tottenham has some hope. A brilliant bit of skill from Rose gets the visitors away on the counter, Alli racing clear before turning the ball into Moura’s path, and he places a brilliant finish beyond Onana.

Alli has been by far Spurs' best performer so far, and it was a wonderful run by him. It looked as though Ajax's defence had crowded him out, but he showed great composure to turn back on himself, with Moura on hand to pick up the loose ball.

54' SAVE! That’s a great stop by Onana! Ajax is opened up, with Tagliafico caught cold by a wonderful Eriksen cross. Alli meets it, and directs an effort goalwards on the half-volley, but Onana is well placed at his near post. That's a warning sign, though!

52' Tottenham is applying a lot of pressure now, and clearly whatever Pochettino said to his players at half-time has had the desired impact. Alderweireld delivers a dangerous cross, which Blind gets a crucial touch to in order to deny Llorente a free header.

50' Yellow card to Kasper Dolberg for a foul on Rose.

49' A bit of a sloppier start to the second half from Ajax, compared to its rampaging play at the beginning of the first half, with Spurs pushing high up the pitch and forcing some errors from the host.

47' Well, maybe the Ajax fans should be worried! Llorente’s clever pass puts De Ligt in a bit of bother, and he just manages to get there ahead of Alli. Tottenham can’t make anything of the corner, though, and Ajax is quickly countering.

46' Back up and running at Johan Cruijff ArenA, after Bob Marley’s classic song Don’t Worry About A Thing is belted out by the sound system. The Ajax fans carry on singing after the play restarts. Considering their team is 45 minutes from a Champions League final, their celebrations are understandable.

Substitution: A half-time change for the visiting side. Llorente was its hero against Manchester City in the quarterfinals, and he has replaced Wanyama. I assume that the substitution means a change in shape, with Llorente going up top and Son, along with Moura, moving out wide.

SECOND HALF: We are back for the final 45 minutes of action. Tottenham needs to put a huge performance if it it to score three goals and get to the final. As it stands, Ajax is sailing through.

HALF TIME: Ajax takes a 2-0 lead into the break and the Dutch side fully deserves it, and it has done it with some swagger and style.

An outstanding performance from the Eredivisie leader so far, with goals from De Ligt and Ziyech putting it well in control of this tie, and it has one foot already in the final. Tottenham has been poor, but against this rampant young Ajax team, buoyed on by its equally voracious support, it is hard to guarantee that it would have fared much better even if it was at its best.

Ten Hag will know that Ajax has its destiny well within its own hands, with Tottenham needing to score three to go through. Pochettino, meanwhile, must look to find some positives from that opening 45 minutes if his side it to somehow claw its way back into contention – although given Liverpool’s comeback yesterday, you cannot rule that out!

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Not a happy Tottenham Hotspur bench.   -  Getty Images

 

45' TWO MINUTES have been added on.

44' A slack foul from Wanyama, who dived in recklessly on Schone, gives Ajax the chance to test Tottenhamn’s defence once again. Ziyech delivers a good cross to De Ligt, who gets a header back into the six-yard box, but it is cleared for a corner.

STAT: Only Lionel Messi (15) has been directly involved in more goals this season in the Champions League than Tadic, who has scored six goals and has provided four assists.

41' Tottenham’s talisman Kane is watching on from the stands, and how he will wish he could be on that pitch attempting to get Spurs back into this contest. The visitor races forward through Rose, who finds Son, but he is caught in two minds, and Blind nips in.

39' This has been such an accomplished display by Ajax so far. Ten Hag’s side has been superb all season, but seem to be finding another level at the moment, and Spurs – one of the Premier League’s finest teams – simply do not have an answer.

STAT: Tadic and Ziyech have now combined for three Champions League goals in 2018-19, only Kylian Mbappe and Neymar (four) have managed more together as a duo in the competition this season.

37' GOAL! ZIYECH SCORES AND AJAX TAKES A 2-0 LEAD ON THE NIGHT!

Tadic gets the ball over Trippier, and combines with Dolberg. The former Southampton man then picks up his head and plays an inch-perfect cut-back to Ziyech, who slams an exquisite first-time finish into the far corner.

Ajax is flying, no, soaring in Amsterdam, and it is leaving Spurs in its wake. Tadic was the instigator, getting the better of Trippier – who claimed he was fouled, but to no avail – before driving forward and picking the right pass for Ziyech to double the host’s lead.

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Hakim Ziyech doubles Ajax's lead.   -  Getty Images

 

35' Frenkie de Jong wins a freekick after Wanyama bundles him over. The Ajax side has refused to be bullied by Spurs' physicality.

32' Wanyama was down after being robbed by van de Beek but he up and running - for now? He is moving a little gingerly.

30' Wanyama is robbed in the middle of the pitch by van de Beek. De Jong gets the ball and passes it to Tadic on the left who twists and turns Alderweireld in the box before shooting just wide of the goal!

Half an hour has gone by and Ajax leads Tottenham 1-0 on the night, and 2-0 on aggregate. Spurs have just had two fine chances though. The English side is showing signs of recovery but Ajax is very calm in its approach. And its players have refused to sit back and defend their lead.

27' First bit of controlled play in Ajax's half from Tottenham and Rose wins a corner. He takes the corner which is cleared easily. The ball falls to Moura who shoots well wide of Onana's goal.

25' It looks like Tripper is struggling. Seems to be a groin problem. Can he run it off or will Pochettino be forced into an early change?

23' Spurs manage to string together a few good passes and Dele Alli finds Son with a good through ball. The South Korean only manages a toe poke and Onana gathers comfortably.

22' Sissoko leads an attack, runs past a few challenges and passes it to Son who sees his shot blocked. Ajax gets the ball and launches a counter that gets stopped by a Rose foul. Energetic from the Dutch side.

20' Ajax wins a freekick via a Sissoko foul. The set piece is well defended and Spurs go on a counter. Eriksen does well to find Son but the ball gets stolen from his feet and Ajax regains possession - and control of the game.

18' You have to wonder how Neres’ absence will impact Ten Hag’s tactics as the game wears on. Ajax has been right at it from the first whistle, but Neres’ pace is a huge asset, and though Tadic has played more often as a winger than a striker during his career, he does not posses the same speed as his Brazilian team-mate. So far, though, he has not been missed.

STAT: De Ligt’s header for Ajax was its 150th goal in the Champions League. It is the 16th side to score as many in the competition, and the first Dutch club to reach this total.

17' No Kane or Llorente means Moura and Son are in a free role. But the Akax defenders have kept a good watch so far. The pair need better movement if they are to break open the resolute Dutch defence.

16' YELLOW CARD. Sissoko and Tagliafico both slide in for a loose ball but the Spurs midfielder went with his studs showing and can not complain about that booking. And he does not.

14' Freekick to Spurs near the halfway line. Ziyech, in an eagerness to close down Rose, takes the man along with the ball. No talking to, for now. But the referee ahs made a note of that.

11' Hard to take eyes off this game. Ajax, with a 2-0 lead on aggregate, continues to press and attack - leaving space for Spurs to counter. Only a matter of time the English side's forwards put together a few passes and get one back. Right? Right.....?

Cross comes in from Tagliafico and Rose chests it down comfortably to Lloris.

STAT: Matthijs de Ligt is the fourth teenager to score in a Champions League semi-final, after Nordin Wooter (1996, Ajax), Obafemi Martins (2003, Inter Milan) and Kylian Mbappé (2017, Monaco).

6' Son works his way down the left and tries to beat Onana at his near post with a low shot. While he manages to beat the keeper, the ball comes off the post and goes away from Eriksen’s reach.

STAT: Spurs has conceded seven goals in the opening 15 minutes of matches in the Champions League this season; the most of any side.

5' AND AJAX TAKES THE LEAD! From the resulting corner, skipper de Ligt heads home and Ajax leads 2-0 on aggregate! He rose highest and powered a great header into the corner, with Tripper's marking non-existant.

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Matthijs de Ligt scores Ajax's first goal with a header past Hugo Lloris in Tottenham's goal.   -  Getty Images

 

4' SAVED! On the counter, Tadic gets the ball on the edge of the box and try to curl one it. Lloris pulls off an acrobatic save but concedes a corner.

3' Spoke too soon. Ajax win back possession and have a couple of speculative shots from the egde of the box blocked.

2' Ajax has started strongly but Tottenham has fought back possession. And is passing the ball around with confidence.

KICKOFF! Tottenham gets the proceedings underway! Ajax in its iconic white and red kit while the away team is in its green kit.

TEAM NEWS UPDATE: For Ajax, Kasper Dolberg replaces David Neres in the starting XI. He will not take place on the bench either, Lassina Traoré will replace him.

◘ The teams are out and the familiar Champions League music plays. The stadium is noisy and ready for the game. What do you think will happen? Head over to our Twitter account and let us know what your thoughts are.

◘ Pre-match comments from the managers:

TEN HAG: "During the last hour [of last week's game] we did good things; organisation of the team in defence was excellent. We need to do more in an attacking sense. We have to read the game and see what's required and that's the challenge.The away goal was important last week. We will play in an arena with an incredible atmosphere and we hope that will help us. When you play against a Premier League team, the intensity is higher. We will have to push our boundaries again."

POCHETTINO: “It is a fantastic night. There is not much to talk about, we just have to play football. We still miss some players, but it is important to recover Son. I don’t know if Vertonghen is going to play with a mask. The game is open, it’s 1-0 down. We can win the game in the first or last minute. We need to be ready, to concentrate and focus, and try to score from the first minute.”

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The picturesque Johan Cruyff Arena with a calm before the storm.   -  Getty Images

 

◘ UEFA's Champions League website has Schone and De Jong against Eriksen and Sissoko as the key battle for tonight's game. Here's what it says:

"Schöne and De Jong shackled Eriksen in the first leg, and allowed Ajax to impose their devastating combinations going forward – Schöne played a key part in Donny van de Beek's goal. The introduction of Sissoko, however, allowed Spurs to put the brakes on the Dutch club's lightning midfield transitions and build some forward momentum of their own."

STAT: Daley Blind is set to play his 26th Champions League game for Ajax tonight, equaling Danny Blind’s tally for the club. Like father, like son.

◘ If you are a Spurs fan, look away right now as we compare both the teams' form (in all competitions) over the last ten games:

  • Ajax's form: WWWWWWDWWW
     
  • Spurs form: LLLWLLWWWL

◘ Mauricio Pochettino, by the way, has - for the first time - spoken about Real Madrid making an approach to sign him and how he refused to break his Tottenham contract to facilitate the move.

Speaking to El Pais, he said:

"The situation was difficult. The dream of every coach was at stake: to lead the biggest team that exists. And you must say no. That is momentous. It creates a conflict. Because you know that if a coach wants to leave, he leaves. But I had just signed a [contract] renewal with Tottenham. And I felt that I could not do anything."

"Daniel Levy did not accept the offers to free me and if they ask me to break the contract I cannot accept it because I cannot behave like that. If my chairman thinks I'm going to continue, I'm not going to run off. Those are not my values. Why is it going to be good for a club to sign a coach who violates his commitments?"

 

A man of good moral, isn't he?

◘ An intriguing story that came after last week's first leg game was of a Dutch player being sacked by his club after he pretended to be ill to miss training and travel to London to watch Ajax play Tottenham. Yes, you read that right.

Jordie van der Laan, who plays for Dutch second-tier club Telstar, was pictured on television attending Ajax's 1-0 victory in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal, but insisted he left the club on good terms. He made seven appearances in the Eerste Divisie this season as Telstar finished 15th and claimed he made the decision because the team had nothing left to play for.

"I had a conversation with Piet [Buter, Telstar's technical director] about the situation and on good terms we decided to separate. I called in sick because I was convinced that I would not be released from training. With this decision, I took into account that Telstar were no longer playing for anything and, given the number of minutes I had recently, I had only a small chance of featuring against Jong PSV [in the final game of the season on May 3]."

The moral? Don't get caught on TV! Or, is it about not lying? Either way, it's a funny story to talk about.

◘ With a 1-0 lead, Ajax will not be looking for a draw tonight. Erik ten Hag has ruled that out in a game he branded "the biggest game ever in the Johan Cruyff Arena".

"That's how we will step on the pitch, with a 0-0 score in mind. I want my team to reach a higher level than we already have reached this season, and to win. We have to win the match [on Wednesday] and we'll play to our strengths. We have to win. It's a new game we have to play."

"The away goal was important last week. We will play in an arena with an incredible atmosphere and we hope that will help us."

"Well you play against a Premier League team, the intensity is a little bit different. We won't [have to] show the squad a motivational video or something. I think this is the biggest game ever in the Johan Cruyff Arena and that should give the players enough motivation."

 

◘ A lot of players in this Ajax side have quite rightfully captured the world's attention. But Erik ten Hag, the manager, has stayed in the shadows until recently. Wins against Real Madrid, Juventus and against Spurs, he is now being linked with several teams across Europe - the notable ones being Bayern Munich and Barcelona. How has he masterminded Ajax's Champions League campaign?

Guardiola, Cruyffianism and the making of Erik ten Hag

He is friends with Pep Guardiola, he shares the Manchester City manager's purist vision of how football should be played, and Erik ten Hag is on the brink of leading Ajax to the Champions League final.

Ajax has upset the odds repeatedly this season but there is now little doubt Ten Hag's men are the real deal, last week's 1-0 first leg win away to Tottenham their fourth consecutive victory on the road in the Champions League.

Real Madrid perished to the Dutch giant in the round of 16 and Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus did not learn lessons from the three-time defending champion being chastened, crashing out in a thrilling quarterfinal in front of its own fans despite being among the tournament favourites.

Ajax is now just two games away from winning the tournament for the first time since 1995, a triumph that would surely be the most impressive of the Champions League era given the comparative riches of the teams with whom it is competing for honours in the modern age. 

Ten Hag - who has been linked with a return to Bayern Munich - missed out on the chance to face old mentor Guardiola when City lost to Spurs in the last round, with the Catalan wishing he could have had a reunion with his former colleague. 

"I was lucky to meet him at Bayern and he was an assistant from the second team. We had a lot of chats," Guardiola said. "I'm delighted where he is, a historical club. It would have been a pleasure to play him." 

Ten Hag's coaching journey did not start in Bavaria, though. After an undistinguished career - he played for clubs including De Graafschap and Utrecht alongside three spells with Twente, where he became a youth team coach - he was appointed by Go Ahead Eagles in 2012, having further cut his teeth as assistant coach at PSV.

Crucially, Ten Hag was brought in by Marc Overmars - now director of football at Ajax - spending a single season at Go Ahead Eagles before taking charge at Bayern Munich II, where he joined Guardiola.

It was there Ten Hag solidified his coaching philosophy, which he was able to put into place when he returned as head coach of Utrecht in 2015. He led them to Europa League qualification. "Guardiola is an innovator and an inspiration," Ten Hag said before Ajax beat Madrid. 

Ten Hag's work at Utrecht was impressive enough that Ajax came calling after sacking Marcel Keizer just before Christmas in 2017. Few would have predicted that 18 months later he would be closing in on a Champions League final. 

His side has benefited from the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) moving fixtures to give Ajax as much rest as possible before European games, but it is clear he has not wasted the bonus time. Ten Hag has also rightly pointed out any advantage is negated by the gigantic budgets the clubs they have played in the knockout rounds enjoy.

Ajax has seemed to be playing a different sport entirely to its opponent at times, with Spurs run totally ragged by its movement and poise on the ball in the first leg's opening half-hour. Nobody has handled Dusan Tadic's fresh take on the false nine, while first leg goalscorer Donny van de Beek has played a masterful midfield hand that probably needs a new term making up to describe it fully. 

It is not just the bald head, tidy beard and stylish touchline garb Ten Hag shares with Guardiola. Both men subscribe to a Cruyffian philosophy that having a defined style, or "the process" to borrow the City boss' terminology, is more important than winning. It would, therefore, be apt had  Ajax faced Barcelona in the final.

Frenkie de Jong - and possibly also Ajax's superbly poised teenage captain Matthijs de Ligt - will be lining up for the Catalans next season, but first they have the chance to make history with Ajax. 

It finished in second, four points behind PSV, in the Eredivisie last term, but after Sunday's comfortable KNVB Beker final victory over Willem II the Amsterdammers, which with two games to go is level on points with the defending champion, is closing in on a potential treble. 

Ajax's brilliant young side, bolstered by last year's decision to invest in the experienced pair of Tadic and Daley Blind from the Premier League, will almost certainly be broken up at the end of the season.  

Van de Beek, De Ligt and others are heavily tipped to follow De Jong out of the club. It is within this sapping reality of inevitability, an increasingly draining aspect of elite European football, that Ten Hag has achieved something great. 

Ajax will be out to exorcise ghost of 1997 semifinal

The average age of Ajax's starting eleven in the Champions League this season has been 24 years and 257 days, with its line-up against Tottenham in the first-leg the youngest of any Champions League semifinalist in the last six years.

While some of this team were not even born when Ajax last played a Champions League semifinal, Daley Blind, Dusan Tadic and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar are likely to be among the few players with memories of Louis van Gaal’s 1997 Ajax side's heartbreak in Turin.

Ajax had lost to Juventus  4-1 in the second-leg with current Real Madrid manager, Zinedine Zidane's 81st minute strike making it a thumping 6-2 aggregate win for Juve. Ajax had lost the first-leg 2-1.

Former Chelsea defender Mario Melchiot scored his first Ajax — also the team's lone strike that night — goal against a side comprising the likes of Alessandro Del Piero.

Ajax had got off to the worst possible start when Nicola Amoruso, replacing the injured Del Piero in the playing XI, drew first blood for Juventus.

Christian Vieri doubled Juventus’ lead four minutes before half-time, leaving Ajax to play catch-up. Attilio Lombardo and Christian Vieri later slotted home to put the match beyond Ajax's reach, ending its hopes of a second Champions League final appearance in three years.

While the defeat may seem like a thing of the past for the youthful outfit, it will draw inspiration from the spirited run in the hopes of making it to the Champions League final when it takes on Tottenham in the second leg at the Johan Cruijff ArenA.

◘ Here are some interesting facts ahead of the clash:

  • 1 - Only one team has lost the first leg of a Champions League semi-final at home and progressed to the final – Ajax in 1995-96.
     

  • 40 - Tottenham would become the 40th different team to reach the European Cup/Champions League final and the first to reach its first final since London rivals Chelsea in 2008.
     

  • 17 - Ajax has played 17 games in the Champions League this season, including six in qualifying. It has lost just one of these encounters – a 2-1 home reverse against Real Madrid in the round of 16.
     

  • 3 - Ajax is without a win in its last three Champions League home games. In addition to its loss to Real Madrid, it drew with Juventus in the quarter-final and Bayern Munich in its final group stage game.
     

  • 38 - Ajax's joint-heaviest home defeat to an English team came 38 years ago – a 3-1 reverse to Tottenham in September 1981.
     

  • 4 - Son Heung-min, who was suspended for the first leg in London last week, has scored half of Tottenham's Champions League knockout stage goals this season, with four out of eight.
     

  • 1 - Tottenham had just one shot on target in the first leg of this semi-final tie, their joint-lowest total in a Champions League match.
     

  • 4 - Hakim Ziyech has scored or assisted a goal in four of Ajax's five Champions League knockout matches this season, including setting up Donny van de Beek for the winner in north London.

TEAM NEWS!

Ajax: Onana, de Ligt, van de Beek, Neres, Tadic, Mazraoui, Blind, Schone, de Jong, Ziyech, Tagliafico.

Substitutes: Varela, Veltman, Sinkgraven, Huntelaar, Magallan, Dolberg, de Wit.

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Trippier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose, Wanyama, Sissoko, Eriksen, Dele, Lucas, Son.

Substitutes: Gazzaniga, Foyth, Davies, Dier, Skipp, Lamela, Llorente.


Ajax makes one change from its first leg team. Joel Veltman drops to the bench and is replaced by Noussair Mazraoui.

Tottenham makes two changes to the team that played Ajax in the first leg. Jan Vertonghen, as expected, starts in a back four for Tottenham. The returning Son is paired with Lucas Moura up front while Moussa Sissoko, who came on as a sub, starts in Amsterdam tonight.

STAT: In the Champions League era, seventeen teams have lost the first leg of a semifinal at home. And only one has turned it around to go to the final. The team? Ajax, in 1996. The then reigning European champion lost 1-0 against Panathinaikos but won the second leg in Greece 3-0.

Kick off: At 12:30 p.m. IST at the Johan Cruijff ArenA, Amsterdam.

◘ Here's some early team news: Tottenham will be without Davinson Sanchez for the game but Jan Vertonghen looks like he will feature - with a protective face mask. Here's what Pochettino said regarding Vertonghen's availability:

"He [Vertonghen] didn't suffer nothing wrong, no more than cutting his nose. It wasn't a big issue. If tomorrow he is fit and he has the possibility to play it is not a problem. I think maybe he doesn't need the mask. It wasn't a big issue."

 

The good news is that Spurs will welcome back Son Heung-min, who sat out the initial encounter through suspension. He scored three of Tottenham's four goals in the quarterfinal triumph over Manchester City and will have to play a crucial role if Spurs is to meet Liverpool in the final.

◘ Moussa Sissoko is sure of Tottenham's quality ahead of tonight's game. He believes Ajax's expansive approach could yet work in Spurs' favour and knows an early away goal could prove pivotal.  Here's what he said during the week:

I think the good thing is Ajax is a team that likes to play. I don't think they will stick together at the back, sit at the back and only try to defend. I think they will try to play, try to score and, for us, we know we have to score as early as possible."

MATCH PREVIEW

Ajax will be aiming to secure a place in the Champions League final for the first time since 1996 when it hosts the second-leg against Tottenham Hotspur, which has reached the competition's semis for the first time, at the Johan Cruijuff Arena at Amsterdam.

There are few clubs with a history to match that of Ajax, but the Amsterdam-based club is in the process of writing a new chapter with Erik ten Hag taking them to within sight of a first treble since the days of Johan Cruyff.

On Sunday, Ten Hag's spellbinding team secured the first leg as they beat Willem II 4-0 to win the Dutch Cup.

The battle with PSV Eindhoven for the Eredivisie title resumes this weekend, and by then Ajax could be through to its first Champions League final since 1996.

It takes a 1-0 lead into its semifinal second-leg against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday, with young stars like Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong and Donny van de Beek mesmerising Europe on a run that has already seen them defeat Real Madrid and Juventus.

There are likely to be a few changes to Ten Hag's line-up for Wednesday's game after the Cup final, when veteran striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was one of those to come into their team. The Dutch leader is also concerned about Brazilian winger David Neres' fitness, though the problem has not been specified by Ten Hag.

After ousting Premier League rival Manchester City in a nerve-racking quarterfinal, Mauricio Pochettino's Spurs suffered a second loss in a row at their new stadium with a sloppy display in the first-leg. Christian Eriksen's performance in the attack was decent, but the likes of Fernando Llorente and Lucas Moura were hardly up to the task in unlocking Ajax's defence.

However, the visitor will have Son Heung-min back from suspension this time and will bank on the South Korean's pace and trickery. The English side will also look to build on its improved second-half performance in the first-leg as one goal will be enough to restore balance to the tie.

Ajax has kept 14 cleansheets at home this season and will look to keep the defence watertight as the onus is on Moussa Sissoko and Victor Wanyama to disrupt Ajax's rhythm.

Tottenham is currently fourth in the Premier League table, following Saturday's 1-0 loss to Bournemouth, and a win at Amsterdam will be a huge boost going into the final league match against Everton as it looks to seal a top-four finish.

◘ Ajax hosts Tottenham Hotspur tonight, 24 hours after Liverpool's incredible comeback at home to Barcelona. The Reds scored four goals and kept Messi and co silent for 90 minutes to progress to the Champions League final for the second successive season. You can read the report of yesterday's game over here.

Hello and welcome to the live updates of the Champions League semifinal second leg match between Ajax and Tottenham Hotspur.