Watch all the key plays as Tottenham and Ajax meet in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals.

By Avi Creditor
April 30, 2019

Ajax continued its impressive run through the Champions League Tuesday, dealing Tottenham a 1-0 defeat in the first leg of their semifinal matchup in London.

Donny van de Beek's goal 15 minutes in punctuated a brilliant first half for the Dutch side, but a shorthanded Tottenham withstood Ajax's best punch and remains within striking distance. David Neres nearly doubled the lead in the 78th minute, but his strike it the post, keeping the deficit at one.

Neither club was expected to reach this phase given its lack of recent success in the competition. Tottenham hasn't reached a European cup semifinal since 1962 and has never gotten this far in the modern Champions League era. Ajax, meanwhile, last reached the semifinals in 1997, yet toppled perennial contenders Real Madrid and Juventus en route to the final four.

Tottenham had the confines of its new stadium in its favor for the first leg, but was severely undermanned. Harry Kane was among a slew of injured players not available for manager Mauricio Pochettino, while Son Heung-min, who has been so vital in Kane's absence, was suspended due to card accumulation. Something else tilting the balance toward Ajax was that the club had its Eredivisie fixture over the weekend postponed to help assist in preparations for the match, while Tottenham played just three days prior in the Premier League.

Pochettino turned to Fernando Llorente and Lucas Moura to spearhead his attack, going with three former Ajax products in his defense and Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier at the wingback positions to account for who he did and did not have available for selection.

As expected, the opening stage of the match was more of a feeling out period. Tottenham, given its unusual structure and opponent, didn't look for force the tempo and turn the match into an open game, while Ajax exhibited some patience as it explored how best to break down the host.

The first glimpse of a chance for Ajax came in the fifth minute, when van de Beek forced ex-Ajax defender Davinson Sanchez into a mistake, though he was able to recover in time and prevent any cross in the final third.

Van de Beek struck 10 minutes later, though, to get Ajax on the board. The Dutch midfielder toed the offside line to perfection while receiving a defense-splitting pass from Hakim Ziyech and had all day to beat Hugo Lloris from close range, doing just that to open the scoring in the 15th minute. The goal went to VAR to review if van de Beek's foot was behind Trippier, but no conclusive view showed an offside infraction, and the goal stood.

The goal only added to Ajax's building confidence, with the Dutch side dazzling and seizing control of the match. Ajax nearly doubled its lead in the 24th minute, with Dusan Tadic springing van de Beek deep into the box, where his acute-angled shot was saved by Lloris. Had van de Beek cut back a cross to the edge of the six-yard box, Neres was waiting to tap into an empty net.

Tottenham nearly answered a minute later off a free kick, as Llorente glanced a header toward the far post, only to miss just wide.

Already depleted, Tottenham suffered a scare after the half-hour mark, with Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld suffered a head-to-head collision while going up for an aerial challenge with Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana. Vertonghen suffered a bad cut by his eye and was tended to for multiple minutes, though after getting cleaned up he ultimately remained in the game. That is, for a couple of minutes, until Vertonghen himself knew he wasn't right to continue and took himself off, completely unable to walk off under his own power. Moussa Sissoko came on in his place in the 39th minute.

Tottenham had a chance to equalize just before halftime and nearly took it, as Alderweireld got in behind and free for another header off a Trippier free kick. His chance sailed over Onana but also just over the crossbar, landing on the top of the netting as the visitors maintained their lead.

Spurs came close again just before the whistle after Llorente's lay-off touch to Sissoko gave the Frenchman a chance to fire from 30 yards, and while he connected for full power, it swerved away from the frame and well wide with the final kick of the half.

Tottenham maintained its positive momentum coming out of the break, with Alli having a trio of opportunities to find the equalizer, once forcing a save from Onana.

Tottenham was let off in the 78th minute, saved by the post. After solid possession play in the Tottenham half, Neres had the ball played to him by Tadic on the left side of the box. The Brazilian's left-footed chance beat a flat-footed Lloris, but it bounced off the far post, staying out and keeping the score at 1-0.

That was the last best chance for either side, with Ajax taking its lead and away goal back to Amsterdam for the second leg.

Here were the lineups for both sides:

The second leg is slated for Wednesday, May 8, in Amsterdam. The winner will advance to the June 1 final in Madrid against either Barcelona or Liverpool. 

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Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)