London — Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham were saluted on Thursday after producing the second English Champions League “miracle” within 24 hours to set up a final against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Lucas Moura’s last-gasp strike took Spurs to the European showpiece for the first time in their history as he completed his hat-trick and sealed an incredible 3-2 win over Ajax to leave the young Dutch side heartbroken.
Ajax, leading 1-0 after the first leg in London, scored twice in the first half in Amsterdam on Wednesday through Matthijs de Ligt and Hakim Ziyech, leaving the visitors with the improbable task of needing to score three goals without reply.
But Moura struck twice within four minutes in the second half and steered a low shot beyond the despairing dive of Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana in the 96th minute as Spurs progressed to June’s final in Madrid on away goals.
It matched the drama of the previous night at Anfield, where Liverpool beat Barcelona 4-0 to overturn a 3-0 first-leg deficit.
“Really, this was too much. This was a gin-addled north London fantasy,” wrote Barney Ronay in the Guardian. “At half-time in Amsterdam Spurs were 3-0 down to Ajax and drifting into the realm of last things and end times, trying, at best, to lose well.
“Six minutes into stoppage time at the end they were in some other place entirely, propelled to a first Champions League final by that impossible hat-trick goal from Lucas Moura, who was irresistible all night, a cartoon of scurrying craft and malevolent energy.”
The Times hailed Spurs’ never-say-die attitude. “What happened was that Pochettino’s players, inspired by their coach’s half-time exhortations and a key substitution, reacted fully in keeping with the club’s traditions of boldness, daring and belief,” chief football correspondent Henry Winter wrote.
“To dare is to do, and they did. The game is about giving everything. It is about refusing to believe it was all over when trailing 3-0 on aggregate with 35 minutes to play, just like they had not gone meekly into the winter night when facing oblivion in the group stage.
“They fought back. It’s not about the money, even now. It’s about glory. Pochettino knows that. His players embodied that.”
The Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel described Spurs’ comeback as a “second miracle” after the events at Anfield. But he added: “We might have to stop defining them as such, really, when they happen every night to English teams in Europe.
“Indeed, if one didn’t know better, it might be claimed that these narratives across the last 48 hours were fixed, or scripted. That they were the product of a team of writers, like Game of Thrones or were choreographed, slam by brutal slam, like WWE.
“Except no pen could produce drama like this. Not if it was supposed to masquerade as reality. Game of Thrones has dragons. These are men out there, flesh and blood.
“Yet there it all was. The return from the dead, the swing of Lucas Moura’s boot when all seemed destined to end in heroic failure. Moura’s hat-trick, completed with virtually the last kick of the match.
“It truly was the most incredible Champions League moment since — er, the previous night.”