While we’re on the subject of former Ajax players, here’s a couple more. Marco van Basten on the left, and Johan Cruyff on the right. Cruyff is wearing a Feyenoord shirt, you’ll notice. He’s playing for them out of spite, because the previous summer Ajax had refused to give the 36-year-old a contract. So off to the old arch-rivals he popped. He inspired Feyenoord to the title that season. Of course he did. The full story here.
Pre-match video entertainment II. And it’s more ABN AMRO era sauce. “Ahh the old innocent days, when Suarez had only bitten one person at work,” quips Zach Neeley. “Anyway, while we’re thinking of former Ajax players …”
Pre-match video entertainment. Here’s Mauricio Pochettino in inscrutable form during yesterday’s press conference. The most enigmatic performance by an Argentinian this side of Ricardo Darin.
Ajax make one change to the XI named in north London last week. Noussair Mazraoui takes the place of Joel Veltman, who drops to the bench.
Spurs make two changes to last week’s starting XI. The previously suspended Son Heung-min is back, while Moussa Sissoko, who came on as a sub for the stricken Jan Vertonghen and did much to steady a listing ship, plays from the get-go this time. Fernando Llorente drops to the bench, while Davison Sanchez misses out altogether with a thigh problem. Erik Lamela returns from injury to take a sub spot, while the aforementioned Vertonghen has recovered from that harrowing concussion to play.
Ajax: Onana, Mazraoui, de Ligt, Blind, Tagliafico, Schone, van de Beek, De Jong, Ziyech, Tadic, Neres.
Subs: Bruno Varela, Veltman, Sinkgraven, Huntelaar, Magallan, Dolberg, de Wit.
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Trippier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose, Sissoko, Wanyama, Alli, Eriksen, Lucas Moura, Son.
Subs: Gazzaniga, Lamela, Dier, Llorente, Foyth, Davies, Skipp.
Referee: Felix Brych (Germany).
Kit watch. Ajax will be wearing their famous white shirts with broad vertical red stripe. They are beautiful, though never as perfect as the editions with the old vertical ABN AMRO sponsorship. Quirky and stubborn and speaking of which, who’s this cheeky scamp wearing it?
Meanwhile Spurs will be wearing their third-choice green. A clean and sharp look, and a nod to the gear they wore in the first leg of the 1984 Uefa Cup final against Anderlecht. Sort of. Near enough. Hey, let’s go with it, because it augurs well.
Here’s the bad news for Tottenham Hotspur. Of the 17 teams to lose the first leg of a semi-final during the Champions League era at home, only one has turned it around to make the showpiece event. It’s none other than Ajax, back in 1996, when the reigning European champions went down 1-0 against Panathinaikos, only to win the second leg in Greece 3-0.
But here’s some better news. While the aforementioned turnaround is one of only four instances of a team going through after losing at home in the first leg of a Champions League knockout, two of those results have happened this season: Ajax against Real Madrid, and Manchester United against PSG. It’s in vogue. These kind of things come in threes … sometimes.
And here’s some even better news! You’ll have noticed that Ajax have been mentioned twice already, the beneficiaries in both situations. Could they find out what it feels when the boot’s on the other foot tonight? You know how the greatest football narratives work, we need explain no further.
Only problem is, Spurs were completely outplayed at the New Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last Tuesday. Since then, they’ve gone down ignominiously at Bournemouth, picking up two red cards (it should have been three) in their fifth loss in six games. They’re not in great shape going into the biggest game in their recent history. Ajax by comparison thrashed Willem II 4-0 in the Dutch Cup final on Sunday, lifting the trophy for the first time in nine years. They’re on a high, having won 15 of their last 17 games. This is a tall order for Spurs.
But then again, Spurs are welcoming back the previously suspended Son Heung-min. Ajax didn’t have to deal with Tottenham’s player of the season last week; how they fare against his pace and style tonight will go a long way to deciding the outcome of the tie. And Mauricio Pochettino’s men can’t play as badly as they did last week. Surely not. Plus the fact, anything’s possible in Europe, just look at that carry-on at Anfield last night. In conclusion, then: it’s on!
Kick off: 8pm BST, 9pm at the Johan Cruijff ArenA in Amsterdam.