Lucas Moura’s last-gasp strike took Tottenham Hotspur to the Champions League final for the first time in their history on Wednesday, completing his hat-trick and sealing an incredible 3-2 win over Ajax to leave the Dutch side heartbroken.
Ajax’s improbable European run seemed set to go on all the way to the final as they led 3-2 on aggregate deep in stoppage time in the second leg of the semi-final at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
That was when the ball broke to Lucas in the box and the Brazilian sent a low shot beyond the despairing dive of Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana to seal their comeback, making it 3-2 to them on the night, 3-3 on aggregate, and taking Mauricio Pochettino’s men through on away goals.
The Ajax players slumped to the turf, their fans stunned, as they go out and Spurs advance to face fellow comeback kings Liverpool in an all-English final in Madrid on June 1.
Leading 1-0 after the first leg, the thrilling young Dutch side appeared to have killed the tie after captain Matthijs de Ligt and Hakim Ziyech both scored in the first half here.
That left Tottenham needing a comeback to match that of Liverpool against Barcelona the previous night, but in an even shorter amount of time.
A quickfire brace by Lucas early in the second half gave them something to cling to, before he struck the decisive blow, denying Ajax a first final since 1996.
Erik ten Hag’s team, who had already eliminated the holders, Real Madrid, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus this season, were applauded by their devastated fans at full-time and must now somehow lift themselves to try to win the Dutch title.
They had been dealt a blow just minutes before kick-off when Brazilian winger David Neres pulled out of their starting line-up after the warm-up, his place taken by the young Dane, Kasper Dolberg.
– Whirlwind start –
That last-minute switch did not perturb the Dutch club, though. Far from it. Dusan Tadic moved to the left wing, and Ajax set about tearing into their opponents right from the off, just as they had done in the first leg.
They won a corner after Hugo Lloris had stretched to his left to beat away a Tadic shot, and from the delivery that followed from Lasse Schoene, De Ligt rose to head home a fifth-minute opener.
Spurs — without Harry Kane but with Son Heung-min back after missing the first leg due to suspension — did threaten an immediate reply as a Son cross hit the near post, but Ajax escaped and came again, a Tadic shot that fizzed just past the far post acting as a prelude for what was to follow in the 35th minute.
This time Tadic, the former Southampton player, cut the ball back for Ziyech, whose first-time shot on his left foot flew into the far corner from a difficult angle.
It was a wonderful goal, and it had surely killed the tie.
The Spurs fans were understandably subdued, and they would not have harboured too much hope in Fernando Llorente as the big striker replaced Victor Wanyama for the second half.
Yet the way Pochettino’s side came back out after half-time echoed what Liverpool had done at Anfield 24 hours earlier.
They scored their first in the 55th minute, Lucas combining with Alli and slotting low past Onana.
Four minutes after that Onana made an improbable save from Llorente’s effort inside the six-yard box, but the ball came back to Lucas and the Brazilian turned and managed to find a corner.
He wheeled away in celebration, all too aware that Tottenham were now just one goal away from completing the turnaround.
With such tension, Ajax no longer appeared so liberated, but Ziyech twice nearly scored again, grazing the post with a first-time shot and then hitting the same upright in the 79th minute.
Jan Vertonghen hit the bar at the other end, but just when it looked like Ajax would hang on, Lucas delivered the killer blow.