Wednesday 8 May 2019 10:57 pm

Ajax 2-3 Tottenham: Lucas Moura’s hat-trick caps comeback and sends Spurs into Champions League final

I am a sports writer at City A.M, covering primarily football and cricket. Get in touch:

I am a sports writer at City A.M, covering primarily football and cricket. Get in touch:

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Just when you thought it couldn’t happen again, it did.

Tottenham were dead and buried, 3-0 down on aggregate in a Champions League semi-final, away from home against an Ajax side who had already disposed of European heavyweights Real Madrid and Juventus.

But they refused to be beaten, and through Lucas Moura’s hat-trick, completed in the 96th minute, they fought back to produce the proudest moment in their European history and a second stunning comeback from an English team in the competition in as many nights.

Read more: Liverpool stun Barcelona in epic Champions League turnaround at Anfield

“We saw Liverpool last night and it just goes to show it’s not over until it’s over,” said fullback Danny Rose after the whistle, while his manager, Mauricio Pochettino, overflowed with emotion behind him.

Tottenham’s prize is an all-Premier League final against Liverpool in Madrid on 1 June.

Further behind

This match was Spurs’s season boiled down into one game and within five minutes it looked for all the world to be slipping away from them.

Matthijs de Ligt rose highest to head in a corner, send the Amsterdam Arena into raptures and seemingly send Ajax on their way to the final.

De Ligt had Ajax cruising early on with a header from a corner (Source: Getty)

Tottenham had their chances in the first half, with Son Heung-min twice going close and Christian Eriksen firing at goalkeeper Andre Onana, but in truth there were outclassed. Ajax, with Frenkie de Jong pulling the strings, were just too slick, too fluent and, simply, too good.

Hakim Ziyech expertly whipped a second into the far corner from Dusan Tadic’s cut-back to make it 2-0 on the night and give Spurs a mountain to climb at half-time.

Momentum swing

To his credit Pochettino recognised the problems and addressed them. Victor Wanyama, who had looked like a fish out of water in a midfield battle which could hardly have suited him less, was withdrawn to make way for Fernando Llorente.

Faced with a youthful, technical and revolving midfield, Spurs chose to bypass it and change the angle of attack. The results were fruitful and immediate.

Ajax v Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Second Leg
Tottenham turned the tie on its head (Source: Getty)

Rose nutmegged De Jong, launched a counter-attack through Dele Alli, who, for the first time in the match, fed the irrepressible Moura to tuck into the bottom corner.

Taking a leaf out of Liverpool’s playbook, they struck with the second punch almost immediately, with Moura picking up the pieces from some Llorente-inspired chaos to dance around some challenges and find the net.

Rolling with the punches

Just like Liverpool, though, they needed their goalkeeper and some luck. Hugo Lloris saved from De Ligt’s drive and from Ziyech in stoppage time, while the Moroccan also struck the post and fired narrowly wide with his normally trusty left foot.

But all the things that had been going wrong in the first half – Kieran Trippier’s distribution, Moussa Sissoko’s surging runs, Eriksen’s vision, Alli’s touches around the box – were now reversed.

When Jan Vertonghen struck the crossbar with an 87th-minute header and saw his rebound hacked away that could have been it. When Llorente cleared the same bar in the 94th minute from a corner that could have been it.

Ajax v Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Second Leg
Pochettino showed plenty of emotion at the final whistle (Source: Getty)

But the game continued and Spurs refused to give in. Alli flicked the ball around the corner, looking for Moura one last time. Moura anticipated his team-mate’s pass one last time and fired into the bottom corner for the third time.

It was a scarcely believable ending to a rollercoaster night, summed up by a tear-soaked Pochettino.

“The emotion is amazing, thank you to football. My players are heroes – in the last year I was telling everyone this group are heroes,” he said.

“We were talking before the game that when you work and when you feel the love it’s not stress it’s passion of the team. We showed we love the sport and football.