Liverpool’s astonishing win over Barcelona was a Champions League tie for the ages – but Tottenham may have trumped them with what could be the competition’s greatest comeback.
Spurs trailed 3-0 on aggregate with just 35 minutes plus stoppage time remaining against Ajax in Amsterdam, only for Lucas Moura’s hat-trick to sensationally see them through to the final.
That is the latest a team have trailed by three goals before winning a knockout tie in the Champions League era – trumping Liverpool’s memorable 2005 final in Istanbul by one minute.
The Reds’ own efforts against Barcelona rank fifth on the list – their three-goal deficit lasted only until Divock Origi’s seventh-minute opener at Anfield, giving them 83 minutes for a fightback completed by Georginio Wijnaldum’s brace and Origi’s second goal.
Monaco trailed Real Madrid 5-2 on aggregate going into first-half stoppage time in their 2004 quarter-final, before Ludovic Giuly sparked their comeback to win on away goals.
Barcelona trailed Paris Saint-Germain 4-0 after the first leg of their last-16 tie in 2017, so have their own claim to the greatest comeback on that basis. They were still three down with 49 minutes remaining in a second leg they eventually won 6-1.
They also overturned an early three-goal deficit to beat Chelsea 6-4 on aggregate after extra time in their quarter-final in 2000, but have often been on the receiving end.
Indeed, lightning has struck twice in successive seasons for the Catalan giants as Liverpool’s comeback happened just a minute quicker than Roma’s similar effort in last year’s quarter-final. Roma lost 4-1 in the Camp Nou but won the return leg 3-0.
Deportivo La Coruna’s famous win over AC Milan in 2004, having lost the first leg 4-1, saw them complete their comeback in 85 minutes after Walter Pandiani’s fifth-minute strike in the second leg.
Between 1973 and 1990 the Reds claimed 11 league titles and a quartet of European Cups, all four won in an eight-season spell.
They were the most feared side on the continent and the benchmark for the rest of Europe.
That power has been gradually eroded but after the remarkable 4-3 aggregate win over Barcelona secured back-to-back Champions League finals, Van Dijk believes they are starting to re-establish their standing in the game.
“Hopefully. That’s something we work towards,” said the Holland captain.
“I feel that (Manchester) City already have that bit of status because they have been dominating last year so much.
“Hopefully we can keep going and make it very difficult for any team in the world.
“We have a great age group. Between 20 and 27, 28, so hopefully we can do it all together for the next couple of years at least and grow as a team and hopefully get a lot of success.”
With a place in Madrid secured, Liverpool still have an outside chance of winning their first domestic title since 1990.
They need to beat Wolves on Sunday and hope City drop points at Brighton to pip their rivals in an extraordinarily tight title race.
“If it happens, it happens. We have no influence on that. They have it in their hands,” added the Professional footballers’ Association Player of the Year.
“We’re still in this season and still anything is possible.
“If it doesn’t happen then it’s not the end of the world. We’ve had a fantastic season, both of us. Man City have been outstanding as well.
“To compete with them says a lot about how we’re progressing from last year. It’s just the start. It’s not like next year we’re not going to try to do it again. It’s something we have to build on.
“Hopefully ourselves are going to keep challenging for the title. Man City are one of the best teams in the world and they’ve shown it the whole season how difficult they can make it for any team in the world.
“The only thing we can do is try to win both: the Wolves game and the final.
“Deserve is not the right word. We have been outstanding this season and if something happens, everyone can be very proud and happy.”
Despite the position they are in, Van Dijk insists there is no pressure to win a trophy for validation of what is happening under Jurgen Klopp, who has lost his last six finals.
“Different teams in the world have a real urgency to win the Champions League and if they don’t it’s a real failure to their season,” he said.
“I don’t think we should think of it as a failure if we don’t win the Champions League.
“It’s not like we had a terrible season or we failed this season. It’s just the start and hopefully we can try to do this every year.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
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.