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Football

Spurs, Ajax clash in Champions League semi final first leg

This is the first time Spurs are in the last four of the UCL. (Agency Photos)

Tottenham Hotspurs vs Ajax Amsterdam

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London

Tuesday, 30-04-2019 @10pm

Referee: Antonio Mateu (Spain)

Harry Kane is now out of his protective boot and walking normally, but he remains sidelined and only has a chance of featuring again this season if Spurs reach the final. Son Heung-Min has often been the man to step up in Kane’s absences this season, but he too is unavailable for this match due to an accumulation of yellow cards in the competition so far. Jan Vertonghen and Kieran Trippier were rested for the weekend defeat to West Ham and are expected to come back into the side for this one. However, there are still fitness doubts surrounding Harry Winks and Erik Lamela while Tuesday’s match will come too soon for Moussa Sissoko and Serge Aurier.

For Ajax, Nicholas Tagliafico remains a doubt after being forced off against Vitesse last time out, though, and Carel Eiting is also unlikely to feature. Naussair Mazraoui suffered an ankle injury in the second leg against Juventus but is now back in training and could be available for selection. Former Southampton man Dusan Tadic is expected to lead the line once again, having scored 31 goals and created 15 more across all competitions this season.

“We arrived where we are now because we are a team. And we are going to be a team, and it doesn’t matter who’s going to score, said Spurs head coach Mauricio Pochettino on missing both Kane and Son for the first leg.

“It’s always an issue when you don’t have all the players fit, but even with some players out, we’ve always competed. That’s why we’re not worried.

“We have a spirit in the team that we can achieve anything and all is possible. That is our strength.”

“It is our first time in the Champions League semi-final, that is why you must show respect for the competition and the opponent because it is going to be tough.”

Not since their first ever European campaign in 1961-62 have Spurs made it to the semi-finals of this competition, but they will now believe that they have what it takes to go all the way. There would be a certain degree of irony if Tottenham’s 11-year trophy drought was to be ended by the most coveted prize of them all, although as the only one of the four remaining teams not to have reached the final before they are already at a disadvantage in the experience stakes. To have even made it this far is an achievement for which deserves huge credit considering Pochettino has had to deal with a relatively shallow squad, having not made a single signing in either transfer window this season. Spurs are also still in control of their own fate when it comes to qualifying for the competition again next season, despite slumping to an underwhelming defeat this past weekend. It is now three losses in their last four games across all competitions, and Saturday’s result also ended their perfect start to life at their new stadium – far from ideal preparation for one of the biggest matches in the club’s history. Pochettino’s side were also in relatively poor form before they welcomed Man City to North London in the quarter-finals, though, and they will no doubt draw belief from their thrilling aggregate victory over the English champions. Spurs have scored just one goal in three games since the ball bounced off Fernando Llorente’s hip in the second-leg classic of that tie, and the stretched nature of their squad was highlighted against the Hammers when they ended the match with Llorente and Vincent Janssen up front.

Ajax’s wait to grace this stage of the Champions League has not been quite as long as Tottenham’s, but it has still been 22 years since they made it this far and football purists will be delighted to see such a great club upset the odds. Few can match Ajax’s history in Europe’s top club competition – four-time winners including three in a row during the early 1970s. The ever-increasing importance of money in football has lessened the Dutch outfit’s capacity for continental dominance, but every so often a particularly special young group of players break through from their famous academy to drag them back amongst Europe’s elite. That was the case the last time they won this trophy in 1995. The current crop led by Matthijs de Ligt and Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong look more than capable of emulating that golden era, and the knowledge that neither is likely to still be there next season will make the latter stages of this campaign all the more important to savour. Ajax’s business model means that a sustained spell at Europe’s top table is unlikely, but they have already ended Real Madrid’s reign in this season’s competition before doing the same to Juventus in the quarter-finals. The manner of those triumphs should leave Ajax full of confidence that they can not only get past Spurs, but also provide another upset in the final with either Barcelona or Liverpool sure to go into the Madrid showpiece as favourites.Erik ten Hag’s side have enjoyed their best moments of this season’s competition away from home too, with those memorable victories at the Bernabeu and in Turin as well as a draw against Bayern Munich in the group stages. However, they have only won two of their previous eight away legs in the Champions League semi-finals. Indeed, Ajax have lost their last four two-legged ties against English clubs, and there is also the factor of a thrilling title race in the Eredivisie to consider with only goal difference separating them from PSV Eindhoven going into the final two games of the season. Ajax will also face Willem II in the KNVB Beker final this weekend, so a treble remains on the cards in what has been a memorable season already, and the Champions League leg of that is surely the one they will covet the most.

Ajax are still on course to winning the treble.

Match Facts

Tottenham have won both of their previous meetings with Ajax in all competitions, winning both legs in the first round of the 1981-82 Cup Winners’ Cup (3-1 away, 3-0 at home). Ajax have won just one of their six previous Champions League meetings with English opposition (3-1 vs Man City in October 2012), with all three of their away games finishing as draws (twice vs Arsenal, once vs Man City). Tottenham are looking to become the 40th different team to reach the final of the European Cup/Champions League, and the eighth different English side (already more than any other nation). The last team to reach the final for the first time were their London rivals Chelsea in 2008. Tottenham are playing in their first European Cup/Champions League semi-final since 1961-62, when they were eliminated by eventual winners Benfica. After knocking out both Real Madrid and Juventus, Ajax became the first side in European Cup/Champions League history to progress from two different knockout rounds within the same campaign when failing to win their first leg at home. The average age of Ajax’s starting XI in the Champions League this season has been 24 years and 257 days – the youngest of any of the semi-finalists, and second youngest of all 32 teams to take part in the competition this season. Tottenham have won eight of their last 10 Champions League home games (L2), including each of the last four in a row. They’ve also kept a clean sheet in each of their last three. Only Lionel Messi (13) has been directly involved in more Champions League goals this season than Ajax’s Dusan Tadic (9 – 6 goals, 3 assists).

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