Tottenham, somehow, matched – perhaps even eclipsed – the drama of Liverpool’s thrashing of Barcelona on Tuesday as they erased a 3-0 deficit to set up an all-English Champions League final with the Reds in Madrid.
Down 1-0 from the first leg, at home, Mauricio Pochettino’s men seemed dead and buried when Ajax went 2-0 up to leave them 3-0 in front on aggregate. But a second half from the realms of pure fantasy was produced as Lucas Moura’s 95th minute goal devastated the Dutch and sent Spurs soaring.
Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong was at the heart of everything good Ajax did in the first half. But he was found wanting in the second half as Ajax stood toe to toe with a spirited Spurs, but had a fairytale final ripped from their grasp.
Here, we admire and also admonish the 21-year-old De Jong.
Well, if we thought the second semi-final couldn’t possibly live up to the drama of the previous night, Spurs and Ajax seemed determined to prove us wrong.
The hosts seemingly had the tie killed off by the break with a breathtaking first half display in which captain Matthijs de Ligt nodded them in front before Hakim Ziyech arched in a fine finish to leave Spurs needing a lifeline.
Step forward Moura whose rapid double set up a grandstand finish – both teams looked like titanic, teetering heavyweight boxers trading blow after blow. The hosts looked like they would hang on, but Moura came up with a stunning knockout punch to floor the deflated Dutch giants.
Goals – 0
Tackles – 5
Clearances – 4
Touches – 69
Passes – 50
Pass accuracy – 90%
Aerials won – 2
Interceptions – 1
GOT RIGHT – BUILDING BLOCK
He already seems the complete player at such an early age. His and De Ligt’s careers have barely taken off, yet their displays mask their youth. They play like seasoned pros.
De Jong zipped and flew across the pitch breaking up Spurs attacks here, sparking Ajax attacks there. He dictated Ajax’s tempo, completing 32 of 34 passes in the opening 45 alone as the Dutch giants threatened to run riot.
Whether spraying long balls, zipping passes into feet or dropping into defence to relieve pressure and break up attacks, he was conducting the choir.
GOT WRONG – FADING FORCE
As terrific as he’s been this season, exhaustion reaches every player at some point, particularly those who are still learning the game and whose bodies are still developing.
In the first 45 minutes of the 21-year-old’s 48th game of the season, he was flawless. But in the second he looked fatigued. As Spurs found their legs, his failed him as he was bypassed by Alli and Moura in the lead-up to both goals.
To fathom just how a 21-year-old can possess so much poise and elegance in defence and attack, you just need to look back to 2017 and the Europa League final. De Jong had celebrated his 19th birthday just 12 days before being named on the bench to take on Manchester United.
His ensuing development has been obscene. A substitute two years ago in Stockholm, De Jong’s first half performance had him on course to being one of the main protagonists for Ajax in the Champions League final. That privilege was cruelly robbed from him, but it surely won’t be long before he does grace one.
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