For Tottenham Hotspur, it was shaping up to be a night of so many what-ifs. What if Jan Vertonghen’s late header had gone in rather than thudding off the crossbar? What if they had started better? And, though it feels slightly unfair to put this on the losing players, what perhaps if Harry Kane had been fit, rather than watching the game in a coat, when his team needed one more goal to make this a dream of a comeback?
But then the clock ticked into the 95th minute and the ball was suddenly on Lucas Moura’s left foot. It was their last chance. He had to score and when the ball left his foot there were suddenly eight Ajax players stretched out on the pitch, not believing what they could see.
Moura had already scored twice for Spurs in that period and those goals, in the 55th and 59th minutes, changed the complexion of the evening completely. It was a brilliantly gutsy recovery and a feat of escapology to make your bones vibrate, following on from Liverpool’s destruction of Barcelona the previous night. And, incredibly, it will be Spurs who face Liverpool at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid on 1 June, having come back from 2-0 down on the night and 3-0 on aggregate.
At this level, teams cannot usually expect to get away with defending so generously. Spurs played with drive and energy and all the other qualities that we usually come to expect of Pochettino’s teams. What they lacked sometimes was control and, at the back, they were vulnerable too many times.