The world’s media commiserated with Ajax on Thursday after their Champions League campaign went up in smoke in the final seconds of their semi-final tie against Tottenham Hotspur.
‘It was not supposed to end like this. A season of such joy was not supposed to lead such pain,’ wrote the New York Times in the wake of Lucas Moura’s goal five minutes into injury time, which put the London side through on away goals.
Coach Erik ten Hag bemoaned the ‘cruel’ end to a run that had begun against Sturm Graz in the second qualifying round back in July and included away victories in Madrid, Turin and London.
‘We have had a fantastic European campaign and in this two-legged tie we did fantastically well again,’ Ten Hag said. ‘We were nearly there. But the dream fell apart.’
The BBC praised Ajax’s ‘brave’ efforts, while the Guardian drafted its obituary for a team that is destined to break up at the end of the season: ‘It has been a butterfly team, here for one glorious summer, wings already beginning to disintegrate a little in the sunlight.’
The other side of the story.
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) May 8, 2019
Italian sports paper Gazzetta dello Sport, said the Amsterdammers’ determination to keep attacking in the second half, when they were 3-0 ahead on the aggregate score, may have been their undoing. ‘Spurs were given new hope and the Dutch knew no other plan than pressing forward. They risked the unthinkable, but it was a joy to watch.’
In contrast, the Süddeutsche Zeitung said Ajax had shown their resilient side both in the away match, when they shut out Tottenham after scoring early, and in the second half after Moura scored twice in quick succession.
‘Ajax showed flashes of footballing brilliance again, but the team was more sparing with them,’ the Munich-based newspaper wrote. ‘They were in no hurry to show that they can play the same elegant, mercurial football as favourites. They defended and defended and defended, and yet it wasn’t enough.
‘One dream is destroyed; another goes on.’
‘Bitter and cruel’
Ten Hag was forced to make a last-minute change to his side when David Neres injured a hamstring in the warm-up, shifting Dusan Tadic from a central position to the left flank and bringing Kasper Dolberg in to play up front.
‘The fact Neres didn’t start wasn’t to our advantage. Obviously not. But we were still 2-0 ahead at half-time,’ he said.
‘Immediately after the break they played more adventurously with [Fernando] Llorente. It was difficult for us because we weren’t keeping the ball. But we had a couple of good chances and could have clinched the game.
‘After that I thought we managed to take back control. The fact that they scored again, when I thought the injury time was over, is just bitter and cruel.’
Ten Hag said all efforts would now focus on winning the last two Eredivisie games to become league champions for the first time in five years. ‘We’ve got Utrecht on Sunday and we need to round off this tremendous season with a title. We can do it, because this team is so durable.’
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