Tuesday 21 May 2019

Matt Law: 'Spurs cast off tragic failure stereotype on second night of drama'


Pure joy: Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino falls to his knees after last night’s game. AP Photo/Martin Meissner
Pure joy: Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino falls to his knees after last night’s game. AP Photo/Martin Meissner

Matt Law

Jan Vertonghen lay on the turf arms outstretched and Kieran Trippier turned back towards referee Felix Brych as Ajax captain Matthijs de Light raced away in celebration. But this turned out to be anything but a Tottenham Hotspur surrender.

The early Ajax goal that had threatened to kill off Spurs had not owed to the Dutch Total Football model, but instead was forced out of strength and desire - two qualities that had deserted Tottenham all too frequently over recent months.

And yet Spurs somehow completed a comeback on a par with Liverpool's miracle victory over Barcelona to make it an all-English Champions League final.

Dele Alli, who had suffered an alarming dip in form, came to life and Lucas Moura scored twice to frighten the life out of the Ajax fans who had sung the "Don't worry about a thing" chorus from Bob Marley's Three Little Birds with their side two goals up and cruising.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino can be proud that his Spurs players, who have looked out on their feet since progressing past Manchester City, summoned one last effort.

Pochettino will not have been happy with the two Ajax goals that left his players with a mountain to climb.

Vertonghen, wearing a face mask to protect the wound on his nose, had been bundled to the ground by Donny van de Beek to make space for De Ligt to bulldozer ahead of Trippier and outjump Alli to score the first.

It was the kind of corner routine Sam Allardyce would have been proud of and it was also the seventh goal Spurs had conceded in the opening 15 minutes of Champions League games this season.

Spurs had shown bravery to hang in there and keep the deficit to a single goal in London last week, but nine defeats in 10 away games heading into the second leg in Amsterdam pointed to a weakening underbelly.

Once Hakim Ziyech rifled in Ajax's second goal in the 36th minute, then Tottenham's 10th defeat on the road since winning at relegated Fulham in January looked a formality.

Ziyech's strike to beat goalkeeper Hugo Lloris may have been spectacular, but the build-up had once again seen Trippier come out second best in a physical challenge, this time with Dusan Tadic.

Van de Beek raced away with the ball and, as Trippier trotted back, he found Tadic on the left who spotted Ziyech's run off the static Victor Wanyama.

A few moments later, Alli and Wanyama appeared to exchange words as the Tottenham players tried to sort themselves out, but there was a feeling it was already too late as the two sides went in for half-time.

There was a time last summer when Trippier could well have claimed to be the best right-back in the game, but he has been a shadow of the player we saw at the World Cup since returning from Russia.

He may be the man many Spurs fans have been pointing the finger at, but he has not been alone in letting his standards drop. Dele has scored one goal this calendar year and was suffering another quiet night before bursting into life in the second half.

The 23-year-old had a great chance to bring Tottenham back into the tie, but volleyed straight at Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana at the back post. Moments later, however, he produced a brilliant piece of skill to put Moura in to pull a goal back for the visitors and at least give the travelling fans something to cheer.

Fernando Llorente, sent on as the Spurs battering ram in place of Wanyama, then forced a brilliant close-range save from Onana but he spilt the ball and Moura turned to equalise. It is the hope that has so often been so painful for Tottenham supporters, but this Champions League campaign of comebacks and beating the odds has been one to savour. The ability to keep getting up off the canvas has been inspiring, even if Danny Rose did let his determination briefly get the better of him as he was booked for slamming the ball down into the turf.

A place in the final flashed past the eyes of both sets of players, when Vertonghen so nearly forced a late corner over the line, but the final knockout blow was not long in coming when Moura completed his hat-trick to send Tottenham Hotspur to the final. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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