Ajax Put Tottenham In An Early Strangehold And Held On For Dear LifeThrough 15 minutes, it looked like Ajax were playing a particularly easy group stage match rather than the away leg of the Champions League semifinal.
The Dutch Boys showed up at Tottenham’s brand new stadium and promptly put the undermanned London club in a variety of submission moves, moving the ball around the nonexistent Spurs midfield and generally looking like the team that had shocked the world by eliminating Real Madrid and Juventus in the previous two rounds.
Ajax’s early gameplan was rewarded on the scoreboard in the 15th minute, when an incredible Hakim Ziyech through ball found a barely-onside Donny van de Beek wide-open inside the Spurs box, with only an overmatched Hugo Lloris standing between him and a crucial away goal. Lloris…did not do anything right—though you can’t really blame the guy when he was stranded in a 2-on-1 from about 8 yards out—and van de Beek scored what would prove the only goal in an enormous 1-0 Ajax win.
The visitors’ domination continued after the goal. Ajax had plenty of chances to double their lead in the first half, while Tottenham’s most important highlight of the half was seeing their two best defenders (Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld) bonk heads going up for a header.
Vertonghen took the worst of the hit and needed medical attention. Inexplicably, the Spurs medical staff let the visibly woozy and bloody center back return to the field. Thankfully, Vertonghen was lucid enough to call for a sub a short time after. The image of him hunched over in need of assistance to walk off the pitch and down the tunnel for treatment is a haunting example of soccer’s deplorable treatment of head injuries.
Weirdly, that injury (and the subsequent substitution, which saw midfielder Moussa Sissoko enter for Vertonghen) seemed to rally Spurs, who prior to that looked like a shadow of the team that beat Manchester City in the quarterfinals.
Though it didn’t lead to many real chances, Tottenham were able to establish consistent possession of the ball (they started with 30 percent possession before controlling things in the second half to finish with 52 percent) and give their defense some some much needed respite from the ceaseless Ajax attack.