Tottenham Hotspur will host the first leg of its Champions League semifinal clash against Dutch side Ajax on Tuesday in a battle between two clubs that few expected to make it to this stage of the competition.
The winner of the two-leg semifinal will take on the winner of Liverpool vs. Barcelona, which begins on Wednesday.
Tottenham ‘Living the Dream’
This marks the first time that Tottenham has reached the semifinals of the top European club competition since doing so in the 1962 European Cup, long before the Champions League existed. For manager Mauricio Pochettino, it is the culmination of years of building Tottenham into one of the top sides in England.
“To be in the Champions League semifinal with Tottenham was a dream five years ago, but we’re living the dream,” Pochettino said in a pre-match press conference. “You know we must always dream for the moon if you want to get something in the sky.”
Tottenham is facing some difficulties coming into Tuesday’s match, however. Leading scorer Harry Kane is out with an ankle injury, while forward Son Heung-min is suspended for the game, meaning Brazilian Lucas Moura will likely have to step up as the primary goal scoring threat. So far this season, he has 10 goals for Spurs, including two in Champions League play.
“It’s a big moment for me,” Moura told reporters. “It’s a dream to play in this competition. I need to enjoy this opportunity and play my best.”
Dutch FA Gives Ajax a Break
Tottenham is also at a disadvantage due to the fact that it played West Ham United on Saturday, while the Eredivisie – the top Dutch league – saw all of its matches postponed this weekend in order to help Ajax be as rested as possible for their Champions League clash.
Pochettino pointed this out as an unfair advantage, as the English FA made no such arrangements for Tottenham or Liverpool. However, Ajax manager Erik ten Hag rejected that assertion, saying that Tottenham and other clubs from Europe’s top leagues have plenty of other advantages over his side.
“We get 10 million [euros] for playing in Eredivisie, and they get many more millions for being in the Premier League,” ten Hag told reporters. “Is that not unfair on us? There are always differing circumstances. Everybody has different circumstances. You just have to deal with them. That’s what we do.”
Both sides may feel like underdogs in the Champions League, but Tottenham has been given the slightest of edges at home on Tuesday. William Hill has Tottenham as a 6/4 favorite at home, while Ajax can be backed at 15/8 and a draw is fetching 23/10 odds. When it comes to the aggregate result, however, it is Ajax (8/11) that oddsmakers are giving the narrow advantage over Spurs (1/1).
Whichever side goes through, they will be a decisive underdog in the final. Barcelona (6/4) is considered the Champions League favorite ahead of Liverpool (9/4), with both Tottenham and Ajax fetching 4/1 odds.