Uefa Champions League semi-final first leg Tottenham Hotspur 0 Ajax 1
Mauricio Pochettino was defiant in defeat but the reality is that Tottenham need the performance of a lifetime to overcome Ajax next Wednesday and reach the final of the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.
The Dutch side dominated the first leg in north London on Tuesday night, and the small comfort for Spurs - who lost Jan Vertonghen early on to a nasty head injury - was that they restricted their visitors to a solitary goal.
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And what a goal it was on 15 minutes, Donny van de Beek coolly picking his spot after wonderful build-up work from his team-mates.
Hugo Lloris prevented a second with a sharp save and in the second half David Neres struck the inside of the post as the French keeper looked on helplessly.
Tottenham never really tested Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana, the home side lacking firepower up front in the absence of the injured Harry Kane and the suspended Son Heung-min.
Son will be back for the second leg in Amsterdam, but on the evidence of Tuesday night it will require something special from Spurs to deny Ajax a place in the final against the winners of the other semi-final tie between Barcelona and Liverpool.
Only one of the 17 previous teams to lose the first leg at home in a semi-final tie has gone on to reach the final.
“It’s going to be difficult, but it’s still open,” said Pochettino, who must have been desperately disappointed with the sluggish start made by his side. “It’s about preparing for the second leg. We will try to win. It will be tough for us, but also tough for them.”
Asked to account for the lethargic first quarter, Pochettino said: “I think the attitude was there, but we didn’t find a way to play. We didn’t show the energy we wanted to show and the way that we conceded the goal was painful.
“We struggled in the first half an hour. The second half was much better, we forced them to play deeper. We pressed in the way we wanted to press. The second half gave us hope for the second leg.”
Ajax certainly looked fresher than their opponents, no surprise perhaps given that the Dutch side was allowed the weekend off by their federation, while Tottenham hosted West Ham on Saturday.
Ajax contest the final of the Dutch cup on Sunday, while Spurs play Bournemouth on Saturday, so both sides will enter the second leg on an equal physical footing.
“We are alive,” said Pochettino. “It’s only 1-0 down. We need to believe we can go there and win the game.”
Whether they go to Amsterdam with Vertonghen is unlikely, given the state of the Belgian defender after a nasty collision with team-mate Toby Alderweireld and Onana as they all rose for a cross.
Ajax manager Erik ten Hag said he was “satisfied” with the way his young side had controlled the match although he was keen to stress there is still much work to do next week.
“Winning 1-0 at Tottenham is an amazing result,” he said. “We won, we are satisfied, but we are only halfway through. If you want to get to the final, you have to improve. Everyday we want to get better.”
Champions League semi-finals
First leg result
- Tottenham Hotspur 0 Ajax 1
First leg fixture Barcelona vs. Liverpool
- When: Wednesday 1 May
- Where: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
- Kick-off: 8pm (UK time)
- TV channel: live on BT Sport 2
- Match betting odds: Barcelona to win 10/11; draw 11/4; Liverpool to win 7/2
- Preview, team news and match guide
Semi-final second-leg fixtures (8pm UK time)
- Tuesday 7 May: Liverpool vs. Barcelona
- Wednesday 8 May: Ajax vs. Tottenham Hotspur (1-0 on aggregate)
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