UEFA Champions League 2019 just served up yet another picture perfect, the edge of the seat thriller. After the surprising and magnificent match between Liverpool and Barcelona, which saw Liverpool rise from the ashes and thrash Barcelona, the UEFA Champions League managed to serve one better with the next UEFA semi-final clash.
Tottenham Spurs took on the Dutch giants Ajax in the second leg of the UEFA semi-final clash. The world was still reeling from the shocking defeat of Barcelona.
Tottenham was already trailing by 0-1 from the first leg of the UEFA semi-final clash. This was Ajax’s home ground, the entire ground was seething with Ajax fans singing in all their glory. From them, Ajax was going to seal the deal.
And that’s exactly how the match started. Two early goals from Ajax, one in the first five minutes, caused Ajax to celebrate in a way that seemed that they had already won the match. Ajax went inside the dressing room in the halftime feeling relieved and safe, as they could see the finale in their horizon.
And, freeze, stop, wait. The ball bounced back suddenly out of the netting behind André Onana, as the white shapes stretched out across the grass. Suddenly, there was a complete silence that gripped the huge iron stands, that was cheering and jarring all this while. The only noise that came was from the eleven players in the field, who couldn’t believe what they had just done. Spurs, who were before half time just trying their best to lose gracefully, were suddenly staring at the face of victory, as Ajax looked dejected and still reeling from what had unfolded in front of them.
Tottenham was on another level at the last six minutes that was awarded to them as the stoppage time. They were fuelled with a different energy as they propelled themselves to the first Champions League Final, thanks to the impossible hat trick goal from Lucas Moura.
The final whistle as the scoreboard screamed 2-3, and just like that, the Spurs had won. The Tottenham players did not even know what to do, they first jumped around, then sat down, some clutched their own heads, some grabbed other’s head. Mauricio Pochettino was among them who hugged everyone. The Spurs didn’t know how to react. They had just come back from trailing 2-0 in the first half to winning after scoring three goals in the home stadium of Ajax.
UEFA Champions League, over the last two games, has served us with stories of hope, comeback and miracles that will forever be written on the pages of sporting history. From the miracle at Anfield to the miracle in the Amsterdam suburbs, Champions League has managed to rise up and give us two of the most amazing UEFA semi-final clash that one has seen football, or any sports for a long long time.
Champions League is a wondrous creation. It is the sheer vertiginous quality of this sporting event, where everything is stacked into athleticism, the team play, the level of preparation that one team can manage. Even though the league has come under the radar for favouring the wealthy over the real football talent. It has come under critique for transforming the sports into something that is a mere cycle that repeats every year of the same celebrity circus.
Yet, after all this, it still gives us these miracles. It gives us a few of the highest level matches played in any sports as the world watched with gaping mouths and raised eyebrows.
This was also one of the moments, where the show is much more than just a show. Through the performances of these two amazing teams, a kind of art was created. An art that allowed one another to share yet makes their own separate efforts. Their will to chase into spaces, and to reach each other movements while refusing to give in.
There were other moments from the match that will also remain etched in the memory. There was s short period just before the outburst of the Spurs when they chased down the ball with sheer desperation, which finally gave away a free kick. As the players started turning back to walk back to their own half the entire front five were just standing there in sheer unity all together like a tight knot.
They came a little closer, slapped one another on the upper arms, and walked like a gang. While this might be seen as a small and normal moment in a game like a football, yet it was that moment that the paradigm shifted. The idea that the Tottenham team was a little flaky, rough on the edges and prone to collapse was also based on crooked ideas like the thin squad was lacking certain key players who could help certain key parts. What they did in the match was quite the opposite of all these criticisms.
The game instead opened up like a casket just before the hour mark, as two goals in five minutes from Moura showed Ajax that the Spurs hadn’t just given up yet. For the next half hour, it seemed that Ajax had finally realised that they might not win this after all.
Instead, the game broke open just before the hour mark, with two goals in five minutes from Moura to make the score 3-2. For the next half hour, it felt as though Erik ten Hag’s team had finally looked down.
In Spurs, Ajax found what Pochettino claimed to be the new era for his team. They found a team which reflected the disciplines that Pochettino had set for his team. The return of the missing puzzle piece in the form of Son Heung-min was the key here. From the exceptional speed while transitioning, to pushing high up on the pitch or by just forcing Ajax to go deeper and deeper while in possession, Son was like a one-man army, who was holding down the fortress.
After this magnificent performance, Tottenham has set themselves up to an English derby finale in the UEFA Champions League. Both teams have fought their way through amazing comebacks that have been etched into the history of the sporting world.
The final deal was closed when the players walked off at the end and Pochettino ushered the Spurs fans and asked them to cheer for the stumbling Ajax team. Pochettino later commented that he had told his team that he drew inspiration from the Liverpool match, and believed that anything could happen. Never once did he stop believing and now he along with his team have booked themselves into the finale of the UEFA Champions League.
Also published on Medium.