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Sunday 18 August 2019

Spurs have no answer to Ajax's Dutch of class

Tottenham H 0 Ajax 1

Ajax’s Donny van de Beek, pictured scoring against Spurs in the Champions League semi-final first leg win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
Ajax’s Donny van de Beek, pictured scoring against Spurs in the Champions League semi-final first leg win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

Tottenham Hotspur have given themselves a Champions League mountain to climb after suffering defeat at home to Ajax in last night's semi-final first leg.

Spurs went down to Donny Van De Beek's first-half goal at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and Spurs' medical team will have questions to answer after they allowed Jan Vertonghen to return to the field after a nasty head injury.

The Belgium defender was given the all-clear by the doctors but was barely able to walk moments later and was escorted off.

That soured Spurs' night even further as they succumbed to an Ajax side that has already seen off Real Madrid and Juventus in the knockout stages of this season's competition.

Former Ajax player Christian Eriksen felt Tottenham made their Dutch opponents look better than they were.

"We didn't play our best," Eriksen said afterwards.

"The first 20 minutes of the game we were just ball watchers. We need to chase it the next game.

"We made them look a lot better. We helped them on the way.

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"When we changed the system it helped us a bit and gave us a different way to press. It is still far from what we know we can do.

"Everyone felt disappointed that we didn't compete in the way that we know we can.

"It doesn't really matter the result. We need to change a lot of how we played."

This was just their second ever European Cup semi-final, and 57 years since their last one, but they are not out of it.

Spurs will hope that the return of Son Heung-min will bolster their attack as they failed to force Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana into a meaningful save last night.

They know that they will have no option but to go for it at the Amsterdam Arena.

Erik Ten Hag's side showed glimpses of exactly why they have beaten Real and Juve en route to the last four as they cut Spurs open in the opening 20 minutes.

They could have put one foot in the final, but David Neres' second-half shot hit the post.

Mauricio Pochettino had said before the game that he was "living the dream" by taking Spurs to this stage of the tournament, but his selection problems were definitely nightmare territory. He never would he have imagined getting to an encounter of this scale and being unable to pick Kane and Son and he was left with no attacking options on the bench. The fact that influential midfielder Moussa Sissoko was only fit to be a substitute was another blow.

The hosts had hardly had a kick by the time they were sliced open by a brilliant passing move in the 15th minute. It involved Lasse Schone and Hakim Ziyech, who slipped in Van De Beek and he had an age to pick his spot low past Hugo Lloris.

The goal survived a VAR check for offside and it was almost two eight minutes later but another picturebook move, which saw Dusan Tadic play Van De Beek in, was thwarted by the legs of Lloris.

Vertonghen's injury forced the early introduction of Sissoko and that gave Spurs an extra dimension as they showed Ajax could be got at with a direct approach.

Lucas Moura caused panic with a surging run into penalty area while Toby Alderweireld headed a good chance over.

They carried on that momentum after the restart as Dele Alli, totally anonymous in the first half, had a shot blocked then fired an instinctive first-time volley straight at Onana before heading another opportunity over.

For all their bluster, Spurs were unable to force Onana into a serious save and in the end it was the woodwork that kept them in the tie.

A quick counter saw Ajax work the ball across goal to Neres, but his side-footed shot hit the far post and Spurs survived.

There was one last push to find a leveller but it never looked like coming, meaning they have work to do in Amsterdam next Wednesday.

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