Tottenham have reached the Champions League Final after a sensational Lucas Moura hat-trick sealed a thrilling 3-2 comeback win over Ajax to send Spurs through 3-3 on away goals.
Matthijs de Ligt and Hakim Ziyech struck twice in a first half which seemed to have finished Tottenham, outclassed and out thought.
Lucas Moura put them one goal from an all-English final, however, with two lightning-quick goals in two second-half minutes here in Amsterdam before striking the fatal blow in the dying seconds to set up an all-English final with Liverpool.
Ahead of the first leg, both managers were at pains to insist that the other side were favourites. There were no doubts here in Amsterdam, the pressure was on the hosts for the first time in this knockout stage.
Ajax were playing the second leg of a tie with the lead and at home for the first time this season, having not won here in a Champions League knockout game since 1996.
Tottenham were certainly the underdogs, Pochettino calling on his players to play without fear, Hugo Lloris instructing his teammates to ‘finish on their knees’ having given everything to reach a first Champions League final.
Far sooner than expected, however, one Spurs man, Jan Vertonghen, was flat on his back as a 19-year-old to whom he was likely a hero wheeled away. Lloris fumed, baffled at how De Ligt had been allowed to glide away from Kieran Trippier before rising above and crashing into Dele Alli to nod the ball into the bottom corner from Lasse Schone’s corner quite so easily.
Within five minutes, the pressure was back on Spurs. Tottenham’s European campaign has seen its fair share of comebacks already this season, now they needed another on the biggest stage. All against a side who, in 55 Champions League games in which they have taken the lead, never lost.
The host sat back and invited Tottenham to prove their worth. A blunted Tottenham attack, low on confidence and without Harry Kane, tasked with poking holes in the defiant defence.
Their first chance came quickly, through a bursting run from Son down the left. The South Korean, who so tormented Manchester City in the quarter final, found his way in behind right back Noussair Mazroui, and cracked a shot against the foot of the post which just evaded Christian Eriksen on the rebound.
Spurs were finding holes, the neat work of Eriksen and Alli opening up spaces at the back, spaces which went unexploited without the killer touch of Kane.
They had their moments. Son and Eriksen both denied by Andre Onana within a minute, but Tottenham looked far from assured on the ball, Ajax happy to wait until a loose touch or pass offered the ball up once again and they could break.
On the half hour mark they flashed another warning Tottenham’s way. Victor Wanyama dispossessed deep in Ajax territory in a rather robust challenge before Dusan Tadic, who only looks up to Lionel Messi in terms of goals and assists in this season’s competition, was released down the left, skipped passed Vertonghen and fired just past Lloris’ far post. Spurs did not learn their lesson.
Trippier, having lost his man for the opener, made a feeble attempt to stop Tadic on the half way line. The Serbian, who was battling Premier League relegation with Mark Hughes and Southampton a year ago, allowed to find Donny van de Beek before accepting the ball back and breaking into the space vacated by Tripper and showing the assurance Spurs had been lacking in finding Ziyech, who unleashed a shot with one sweep of his left boot which Lloris would have had a hard time seeing, let alone stopping.
Pochettino sent on Fernando Llorente for Wanyama at the break, another sign that this summer’s promised ‘painful rebuild’ is much needed, but there was little concern from the home fans who continued the customary half time rendition of Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ well into the second half.
There was perhaps one thing they should have worried about, however. Tottenham were better than this, and Pochettino knows how to get these players going. Danny Rose described the Argentine’s half time team talk during the last north London derby as one of the best things he had ever witnessed, something similar was surely delivered here.
Tottenham were out early for the second half, left to wait at least two minutes by their hosts here. That did not slow them, Son encouraged by the change he was getting from young Noussair Mazraoui down the left, while the full-backs were starting to make the right kind of impact, overlapping as even Toby Alderweireld got in place to cut back and deliver a cross from the edge of the box.
Eriksen and Alli where starting to tick. The Dane, whose picture still adornes the walls inside the Johan Cruyff Arena, curling a pin-point ball like only he could through the Ajax defenders and into the path of an unmarked Alli at the far post. His finish, though, was straight at goalkeeper Onana.
Tottenham had tried a tricky, passing game in the first half. Now they were more direct, puchy as Rose sent a long diagonal ball forward towards Lucas, who managed to get a touch and send Alli through almost alone.
The England midfielder, in danger of letting a big occasion slip past him, decided against shooting and cut through the legs of Frenkie de Jong. His touch looked too heavy, another move broke down at the last moment, until Lucas, almost from nowhere, surged through the slightest of gaps and poked the ball clear with his first touch, before reigniting the tie with his second.
Two minutes later and the tie was more than reignited, it was on a knife edge, Tottenham one goal from the Champions League final Pochettino has dreamt of for five years.
Again the Brazilian showed quick feet, but this time to evade those who would stop him. Llorente looked to have scored another big Champions League goal when Trippier slid the ball to the unmarked Spaniard’s feet, four yards from goal, but somehow Onana’s hand got back and sent the ball to Lucas who, with one step-over and two deft touches, left Schone and Van de Beek unsure what day it was before finding the narrowest of gaps to the back of the net.
Now it was Ajax’s touch that appeared to be off, Tadic’s passes not quite finding their target and Ziyech’s efforts sliding just past the post before clattering back off it. The pressure once again had swung the other way.
It was now anyone’s game. One more from Spurs and they would be through on away goals, Lucas almost got his third too when Llorente rose for the ball, before it fell to the former PSG man, his strike only sent behind by a deflection of De Ligt.
Erik Lamela and Ben Davies were introduced for Trippier and Rose as still Tottenham pushed. Those high up in the away end were on the cusp of celebrating a meeting with Liverpool when Vertonghen found the ball falling his way, completely free, in the box, only to watch his header strike the bar before his follow up was thumped clear off the line.
Son fired over the barm and Tottenham’s chances were fading with two minutes to go.
That they were so close to a final, however, with just one point from three group stage games and a three goal deficit with 35 minutes of this 180 minute drama to go is credit to this thin squad, perhaps even greater misfits than Ajax at this stage of the competition.
That was not enough for this bunch, however. They continued to battle, Lloris up for a corner. And then it came. Moments after Onana had juggled balls to waste time, a last desperate ball fell to Alli on the edge of the area, he poked it through tired Ajax legs and to the feel of Lucas.
No quick touches needed this time, one flick and the ball was past Onana, and Tottenham into a historic final.