Ajax scored a critical away goal in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal vs. Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday, grabbing a 1-0 win that could have been worse for the English hosts.
The Dutch side took the lead in the first half thanks to a 15th-minute goal by Donny van de Beek, and nearly took a decisive advantage back to Amsterdam in the second half.
Neres Nearly Gives Ajax Two Goal Cushion
Brazilian forward David Neres had Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris on the wrong foot after a swift counterattack, leaving him the far right side of the goal open. But his slightly mishit shot banged off the far post, saving Tottenham from falling two goals behind at home.
With that in mind, Tottenham might feel fortunate that they are down just a single goal after the first leg, leaving them plenty of opportunity to win the match when the teams meet again next Wednesday at the Amsterdam Arena.
After the match, Spurs midfielder Christian Eriksen gave a frank assessment of the team’s performance, saying they simply didn’t play well enough to compete in the first half.
“The first 20 minutes we were just ball watchers,” Eriksen told reporters immediately after the match. “Against a team that likes possession, that’s a no-go. We have to change it up a lot for the next game. We made them look a lot better than they are. Of course they are a good side, but we helped them on their way. We gave them the feeling that they can control things. It was our fault.”
Vertonghen Leaves Game After Clashing Heads
Other than van de Beek’s goal, the most memorable moment from the match may have come when Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen suffered a head-to-head collision with teammate Toby Alderweireld while going up for a header in the Ajax box late in the first half.
Vertonghen was bleeding heavily from a cut on his nose, which was treated on the field before he left the field to change his bloody jersey. Tottenham allowed him to return to the game afterwords, but it was quickly apparent that the defender was not okay, as he was struggling to remain standing on the field. At that point, Moussa Sissoko was brought on as a substitute while Vertonghen was helped back to the locker room by medical officials.
Tottenham will now have to pull off an upset victory on the road next week in order to have a chance to advance to the club’s first Champions League final. A 1-0 win will force extra time and potentially penalties, while any other win would put the club through on aggregate score or away goals.
But winning in Amsterdam won’t be easy. Ladbrokes now rates Ajax as a 2/7 favorite to go through to the final, while Tottenham is a 5/2 underdog to find a way to turn the match around.
Still, Spurs head coach Mauricio Pochettino says his side can feel comforted by the fact that they are still within striking distance heading into the second leg.
“We are still alive, we are only 1-0 down,” Pochettino said in his post-match press conference. “We need to believe that we can go there and win.”