The players didn’t want to leave, soaking it all up with our delirious fans. Mauricio Pochettino was in tears. Jan Vertonghen sat in the dugout at his former home, taking it all in. Lucas Moura clutched the match ball. This is what history felt like, in the moment, minutes after our astonishing 3-2 win over Ajax at the Johan Cruyff ArenA on Wednesday night.
Somehow, just saying a win doesn’t do it justice. Once again, this group of players were led to the exit door of Europe’s elite competition only to shut it, lock it and turn back.
We were 3-0 down on aggregate at half-time, 45 minutes to find three goals. The final in Madrid couldn’t have felt further away, but still the players refused to take no for an answer.
Heroes are made on nights like this. Stories written that we’ll tell our kids and grandkids. Lucas will forever be remembered as the player who scored a hat-trick to take us into the Champions League Final, the third and final, dramatic goal arriving in the sixth minute of added time.
It feels an age away, but Ajax took a 2-0 lead on the night through Matthijs de Ligt and Hakim Ziyech. Fernando Llorente entered the fray at half-time and was key as we pushed Ajax back, just like the first leg back home. Lucas struck for 2-1 (1-3) on 55 minutes and pounced on a loose ball to level on the night five minutes later. With four minutes left, Vertonghen struck the crossbar and saw his follow-up cleared off the line. Surely that was the Hollywood line gone, but no, this unbelievable script had a few lines left…
Incredibly, we won 3-2 on the night which, combined with a 1-0 loss at our new stadium eight nights prior, means we progress on away goals in sensational fashion. High drama in the last round at Manchester City – and even more so here. We’ll face Liverpool in our first-ever Champions League Final in Madrid on Saturday 1 June.
That had seemed a world away in the first half, though. Despite a positive, high-energy performance, we allowed the hosts to strike first as Hugo Lloris saved from Dusan Tadic, only for De Ligt to steer home a header from the resulting corner inside five minutes. Heung-Min Son struck the base of the near post shortly afterwards with an angled shot from the left but, after further chances for both sides, Ajax took the incredible atmopshere among the home contingent up a notch with a second goal on 35 minutes. The ball broke for Ajax in our half, three-on-three and Tadic cut back for Ziyech to lash high past Lloris from 12 yards. That meant we trailed 3-0 on aggregate going in at half-time.
But we never surrendered. Far from it. Dele tested Andre Onana with a rising drive before Lucas gave us hope on 55 minutes. Danny Rose nutmegged De Ligt, Lucas broke through the middle, exchanged passes with Dele and slotted home from a central position in the box.
Four minutes later it was well and truly game on. Kieran Trippier delivered a low cross from the right, Onana somehow saved Llorente’s effort from point-blank range but Lucas kept the attack alive and rifled in with a shot on the turn. Just over half-an-hour to play and one goal needed.
Both sides had a series of corners and Lloris beat out De Ligt’s low drive into the mix from the right-hand side, before Ajax dangerman Ziyech almost wrapped it up with a low shot that fizzed across Lloris but hit the post. Then, four minutes from time, what we thought might be it. Christian Eriksen delivered a corner, Vertonghen hit the bar and then somehow his effort on the follow-up was scrambled off the line.
But we kept probing. Llorente’s header from a stoppage-time corner went over the bar and keeper Onana was booked for timewasting. But we did it. As the game entered its sixth additional minute, a deft touch from Dele was perfect for Lucas to stroke precisely into the bottom corner to spark wild celebrations among everyone of a Spurs persuasion in the stadium. Ajax still found a few extra seconds but we defended a throw-in, countered, won a free-kick high up the pitch and that was that. What a night!
Lucas stole the headlines with his hat-trick goal in stoppage time, but his first was just as important.
The forward picked his spot and found the corner of the net with just 10 minutes of the second half played, allowing us the time and, crucially, the belief to mount a comeback on the most glorious of Glory, Glory Nights in the Netherlands.
Boss Mauricio was visibly emotional after the full-time whistle. He hugged his players in tears, then later emerged back onto the pitch with his staff and players to salute the fans, who had remained in the away end, high up in the stands.
“It’s amazing to describe with words,” the manager said. “It’s an amazing feeling, I am so grateful to this group of players that for me are not heroes but are superheroes. They never give up, the faith, the belief was amazing and I want to congratulate them. The players own the football and I am so proud to be their manager.”
What did Mauricio say at half-time when we were staring down the barrel? “We didn’t talk too much, it was more about changing things and to find different alternatives to play and of course, always believe,” he said. “Those were the words that I used the most – never give up. I think for sure we were in the game, we believed that we could score. I think it was a little bit unfair in the first half to go to half-time 2-0 down but the second half was amazing and we fully deserve to be in the final.”