Ajax 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur: Moura sparks greatest European comeback since the night before

A hat-trick in Holland, an almighty comeback in Amsterdam. Tottenham Hotspur pulled off the second sensational Champions League semi-final overhaul in successive nights.

Tottenhams Brazilian striker Lucas Moura strikes the vital goal against Ajax deep in injury time. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty
Tottenhams Brazilian striker Lucas Moura strikes the vital goal against Ajax deep in injury time. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty

Three goals behind in the tie by half-time and almost certainly out, until Lucas Moura finished off his treble in stoppage time to clinch the tie.

Another astonishing evening after the Anfield Miracle of the night before.

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What the hell has happened to the Champions League knockout stages? They used to be tight and defensive and hardly ever lived up to how they were billed. It was all a bit, well, dull, really.

Not so now. They have become the church of chaos, the temple of unpredictability, a place where anything goes and all bets are off.

The goals that were and weren’t in a match decided by VAR – Spurs versus Manchester City in the quarters – an eight-goal thriller that only went to Spurs on away goals.

Manchester United were seemingly down and out in Paris in the last 16, trailing by three, but eventually through with a stoppage-time penalty. Liverpool overturned a 3-0 deficit to Barcelona with that amazing 4-0 home win on Tuesday night.

So, 3-0 is basically the new 2-0. There will be half-time pundits in seasons to come declaring three goals a dangerous lead in Champions League second legs.

Over to Spurs – two down on the night against Ajax but three down in the tie, only for Moura to pop up from nowhere with two goals in four second-half minutes to reduce the task to one more away goal, with more than half an hour left.

It had seemed so straight forward when Matthijs de Ligt headed Ajax, carrying with them an away goal from London, in front after only five minutes.

What were you doing when you were 19 years old? Perhaps at university, downing snakebite black and stumbling around the students’ union. Maybe making your first forays into work life. Travelling the world on a shoestring. Probably trying to ignore your future looming over the horizon and racing towards you at an alarming speed.

For Ajax’s teenage centre-back, the future as one of the world’s leading defenders is clearly mapped out. Captaining his club and becoming only the fourth teenager to score on this stage. The rest – Nordin Wooter, Obafemi Martins and Kylian Mbappe – having the advantage as forwards.

It was poor from Spurs, poor from Kieran Trippier. He let de Ligt run free at a corner so that he could out jump Dele Alli and head in from close range.

It meant another miracle was required, and rarely do they occur twice in 24 hours.

Ajax had never lost a Champions League game in which they’d scored first, winning 41 and drawing eight, until now.

That certainly did not seem about to change when Hakim Ziyech made it two. Where was Trippier again? Nowhere near close enough to the Moroccan as he lashed the ball left-footed across Hugo Lloris.

So Spurs needed three goals to go through.

Not since the night before had a team required three goals to stay in a Champions League semi-final and scored them. That was, probably, part of the problem for Tottenham. There was a flatness, initially, to the occasion, in the build-up it felt as though everyone was still talking about Liverpool and the night before, not Spurs and the what ifs of the evening ahead.

How do you follow Barcelona at Anfield? Well, like that.

Tottenham had scored one goal in their previous five matches – seven and a half hours of football – and as they kicked off the second half they had to find three in 45 minutes.

One of those goals was ticked off on 55 minutes. Moura danced through Ajax’s defence and slotted the ball past Andre Onana.

Then, four minutes later Onana pulled off an instinctive close-range block from Fernando Llorente, thrown on at half-time. But, when the ball came loose, Moura was there to hop, skip and jump and find a route past Ajax’s goalkeeper. Hang on a minute. Surely not?

In a stadium full of supporters who had been gleefully singing along to Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds – “Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing, is gonna be all right” – there were suddenly tens of thousands of tense, anxious Ajax supporters.

They agonised when Ziyech struck the post with Lloris well beaten, were barely able to watch in the final five minutes when Jan Vertonghen’s effort struck the bar and the rebound was cleared from the line. Then Moura made their worst fears come true.