Two surprise entrants into the final four of the Champions League meet when Spurs host Ajax in the first leg of their semi-final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Tuesday (3pm ET).
When the group stage got underway in September, neither of these clubs were thought of as likely semi-finalists. Spurs were more favored as part of a pack of teams outside of the seven or eight most-fancied sides hoping to put together a good run, but not heavily so.
This is the furthest Spurs have been in the competition since their first appearance in the 1961-62 season, when they lost out 3-4 on aggregate to Benfica after a pair of thrilling back-and-forth encounters. They reached the quarter-final in 2011, but surpassed that mark this time around thanks to an away goals triumph over Manchester City in a pulsating tie.
The first leg was a pretty drab affair. City were cautious, perhaps overly so, and Spurs grabbed the win through Heung-Min Son’s second-half strike. The return in Manchester was completely different. There were five goals inside the opening 20 minutes or so, two more after the interval, and even a highly-dramatic VAR sequence right at the end of second-half stoppage time, as City were denied the goal they thought had sent them through.
When the final whistle blew, the tally was 4-3 to City on the night, but 4-4 on aggregate. Tottenham’s three away goals, two of them scored by Son, proved decisive as they saw off the United States’ sportsbooks’ competition favorites to advance. “To be in the semis was a dream,” coach Mauricio Pochettino said afterwards. “Now we are there. My players are heroes.”
Spurs next face the challenge of overcoming an exciting, young Ajax side who have already eliminated a pair of Europe’s biggest teams en route to the final four. The Dutch side defeated three-time defending champions Real Madrid 5-3 on aggregate in the round of 16, reversing a first-leg deficit with a 4-1 win away in Spain. They then got the better of Juventus 3-2 on aggregate in their quarter-final.
Ajax undoubtedly have a more illustrious history in the competition than Spurs, having lifted the trophy on four occasions, but this is the first time they have made the final four since 1997. Indeed, recent history suggests they are actually the more unlikely of the two semi-final participants. It is necessary to go back over a decade, to the 2005-06 season, to find the last time they successfully made it through to the Champions League knockout rounds. They hadn’t even made it out of the qualifying rounds in the three seasons prior to this one.
This special generation of young talent, bolstered by the additions of experienced performers Daley Blind and Dusan Tadic, has produced a sparkling campaign of excellent football and results. Last summer, the young core of the team were summoned to watch a presentation designed to convince them to reject offers from afar and stay together for one more year to have a proper go at the Champions League. They did and have been rewarded for it.
Midfielder Frenkie de Jong has already agreed to join Barcelona next season and others will surely follow, but for now they form part of a team who have already shown they have the necessary tools to give Spurs a very good game of it over the two legs of this tie. In fact, the bookies currently have Ajax as the marginal favorites to progress to the final.
Spurs again have a number of injuries to deal with. Harry Kane and Harry Winks will definitely miss out, while Moussa Sissoko’s participation is also in serious doubt. To add to their problems, Son will miss the first leg after picking up his third booking of the competition in the second leg of their quarter-final. He and Kane have scored over half of Tottenham’s Champions League goals this season; without them, goals may be an issue.
Our Preview’s Spurs vs Ajax Betting Tips, Predictions & Picks Verdict
Given that Ajax have also been given a full 10 days rest before this match, and that they have already won away to Juventus and Real Madrid and drawn at Bayern Munich in this year’s competition, they have a solid chance of taking a positive result back to the Netherlands. In light of that opinion, this is our Spurs vs Ajax prediction and betting pick for this UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg game: