Anything you can do, we can do better…Tottenham’s miraculous Champions League comeback

Bottled it, again. Tottenham Hotspur down at Ajax, facing yet another undignified exit from the Champions League.

A team full of nearly men achieving far less than the sum of their parts. History repeating itself for the nominal North London ‘giants’.

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A traditional end-of-season collapse arrived remarkably early this year, Tottenham refusing to string along supporters with false hope of a title challenge any longer than Matchweek 26.

Three wins from eleven league matches since and trailing in the Champions League semi-final against a team of players barely older than that of consent. Bottlers.

That particular part of the script must have been wrongly translated when it got round to Lucas Moura. The diminutive winger-cum-striker cut a vivacious jib out at the Johan Cruyff Arena and cemented his place in Tottenham folklore.

For all the agony of losing Harry Kane to injury, questions, whisper them quietly, emerge as to whether he’d be able to raise his game to such a vertiginous magnitude as the Brazilian. Now is not the time to ponder hypothetical doubt, Mauricio Pochettino’s men summoned the strength of Hercules to topple ten Hag’s tiki taka and did so in the most dramatic of fashion.

For a large part it wasn’t pretty: in times where we have come to appreciate the aesthetics of Tottenham’s creativity.

Ajax, the hallmark of academy excellence, boasted the exuberance of a team not knowing the gravity of their achievements. The Dutch club, steeped in history, were despite newly formed expectations, back where they rightfully belong.

A first Champions League semi-final in 22 years, such glory used to be traditional, now as infrequent as mankind on the moon.

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Ajax, consistently first to the ball, were playing Tottenham at their own game and writing new rules as they went. Hakim Ziyech a persistent thorn at the heart of attack with audacious creativity bagging him the second goal of the game, opening up a formidable three goal advantage.

Then the nerves hit. Spurs are familiar with the situation; they’re usually on the wrong side of it.

Lucas Moura started his Amsterdam assassination in the fifty-fourth minute with a composed finish to set the heart rates racing. Surrounded by a cacophony of matadorial support, the occasion suddenly dawned of the prodigious protagonists.

Passes that used to be simple suddenly found themselves a foot or two awry of the target.

An attacking flare became midfield complacency, three goals were surely enough to see them through?

The defence did well to cope with the rampant drive forward from Tottenham.

Fernando Llorente had a stab from six yards out, Onana did well to block the ball before it slipped away like a banana.

In came Lucas, no hype nor hope about the finish, alert to the situation and snaffling the ball into the bottom of the net. Mortalised by mediocrity for a lifetime, this Tottenham team had the pressure of historical capitulations to contend with.

A win on Wednesday was not merely about reaching the Champions League final, this was the do-or-die moment for the whole philosophy of Pochettino.

A philosophy of collective responsibility, collective success but, all too often, collective failure.

Perhaps it wasn’t to be. That sudden surge in momentum kiboshed by a doubled-up assurance in the home team.

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The atmosphere changed as the clock kept on ticking towards ninety minutes, towards yet another underwhelming exit. And then it happened.

A moment to sit forever in the history books, frozen in time as the most remarkable comeback in Champions League history.

A goal that reduced grown men to tears and made men of the boys responsible.

White shirts toppled like the Berlin Wall, each Ajax player falling to the grass upon the realisation of their fate. Juxtaposed with the sheer elation of those connected with Tottenham.

The whole of the team made their way across the pitch to celebrate with the players in scenes reminiscent of the Pamplona Bull Run. The matadorial support had been gored, the white flag laid bloodied on the turf. All eleven of them.

Even sweeter for the events of the night before and Liverpool’s own miraculous massacre of Barcelona.

A competition that had been thrown in the bin by large parts of the footballing community, not least a fair few of the clubs, for failing to produce the high-jinks anticipation of European football in days gone by.

Last week has put that to rights, single handedly producing the greatest 24 hours in the history of sport. Not the Champions League, not football, sport as a whole. Drama that even the genius of Jed Mercurio would fail to have imagined.

Bottlers, pop the champagne.

The Author

Ollie McManus

Once attempted to run for FIFA President. Have a passion for writing about the obscure stories: I've covered football everywhere from Libya, Syria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Uzbekistan to England, Australia and Brazil. @OliverGMcManus on Twitter.

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