Ajax took a big step towards reaching their first Champions League final since 1996 as Donny van de Beek’s early strike earned them a 1-0 first-leg advantage at Tottenham in their semi-final clash.
Spurs, involved for the first time in over half a century at this stage of the competition, were overwhelmed in the opening stages and fortunate that Ajax’s intricate passing and movements only resulted in the one goal.
Van de Beek scored that crucial goal, having gathered Hakim Ziyech’s precise pass before sitting down Hugo Lloris with a couple of feints prior to his finish.
The Eredivisie leaders almost scored a second on Tuesday, only for David Neres’ late effort to come back off a post, but they still took charge of the tie ahead of the return leg in Amsterdam next week.
Ajax wasted no time at all in stamping their authority on the contest, and it was no surprise to see them take the lead in the 15th minute.
Van de Beek, involved earlier in the move when he brilliantly flicked the ball away from Dele Alli, drifted between Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose, collected Ziyech’s pass and calmly placed his finish beyond Lloris.
There was no need for a VAR check, as replays showed the midfielder was marginally onside, and Ajax kept their foot on the accelerator with Rose almost slicing into his own net and Van de Beek being denied by Lloris at his near post after a fine dummy.
Spurs eventually responded and looked most threatening from free kicks, Fernando Llorente and then Toby Alderweireld both directing Kieran Trippier set-pieces off target.
But already shorn of the injured Harry Kane and suspended Son Heung-min, they were forced to reorganise yet again when a battered and bloodied Vertonghen had to come off after bumping against the head of Alderweireld.
That enforced the introduction of Moussa Sissoko, who gave Spurs more midfield control, and Alli twice came close before the hour, firing a half volley straight at Andre Onana and then heading over.
Yet those opportunities were too infrequent from the hosts’ perspective as their defensive work in chasing Ajax early on appeared to be taking its toll.
And they were fortunate the Dutch club did not leave London with a greater advantage as Neres’ placed finish from a counter-attack with 12 minutes to go came back off a post, with Lloris motionless.
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