Tottenham will have it all to do in Amsterdam next week if they are to keep their Champions League dream alive as Ajax claimed a 1-0 win in the semi-final first leg.
But bigger questions will be asked of Spurs’ medical team 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 went down to Donny Van De Beek’s first-half goal at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
This was just their second ever European Cup semi-final, and 57 years since their last one, but they are not out of it as they showed that this excellent Ajax side can be got at, even if they did not force goalkeeper Andre Onana into a meaningful save.
They will have Son Heung-min, and maybe Harry Kane, back for the second leg and they will have no option but to go for it in the Dutch capital.
Erik Ten Hag’s side showed glimpses of exactly why they have beaten Real Madrid and Juventus 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.
#THFC: Lloris (C), Trippier, Sanchez, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Wanyama, Rose, Eriksen, Dele, Lucas, Llorente.@WilliamHill odds (18+) https://t.co/UTGkpi6vxV#UCL ⚪️ #COYSpic.twitter.com/Z5KPWVoYqD— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) April 30, 2019
The fact that influential midfielder Moussa Sissoko was only fit to be a substitute was another blow.
Ajax, in contrast, were at full strength and able to name the players that helped them to those famous wins in the last two knockout rounds.
What also rankled with Pochettino was the full week the Dutch side were afforded to prepare for the game after the Eredivisie kindly cancelled the domestic fixtures to aid their side in Europe.
Spurs had home advantage and a vociferous support, with the acoustics of their fine new stadium fuelling a brilliant atmosphere, but that soon passed as Ajax assumed total control.
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.
Spurs’ evening took another turn for the worse after Vertonghen suffered a head injury which left him bloodied and dazed and he could barely walk down the tunnel after a brave attempt to play on was short-lived.
That 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.
The game had completely changed as Ajax had begun to struggle to cope with Tottenham’s physicality, but the home side just lacked that quality at the vital moment, making the questions Pochettino and Lucas had to field before the game about who was going to score entirely pertinent.
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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