LONDON: Tottenham will have it all to do in Amsterdam next week if they are to keep their Champions League dream alive as Ajax claimed a 1-0 win in the semi-final first leg.
But bigger questions will be asked of Spurs’ medical team after they allowed Jan Vertonghen to return to the field after a head injury.
The Belgium defender was given the all-clear by the doctors but was barely able to walk moments later and was escorted off.
That soured Spurs’ night even further as they went down to Donny Van de Beek’s first-half goal at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
This was their second European Cup semi-final, and 57 years since their last one, but they are not out of it as they showed that this excellent Ajax side can be stretched even if they did not force goalkeeper Andre Onana into a meaningful save.
They will have Son Heung-min, and maybe Harry Kane, back for the second leg and they will have no option but to go for it in the Dutch capital.
Erik Ten Hag’s side showed glimpses of exactly why they have beaten Real Madrid and Juventus en route to the last four as they cut Spurs open in the opening 20 minutes.
They could have put one foot in the final, but David Neres’ second-half shot hit the post.
Mauricio Pochettino had said before the game that he was “living the dream” by taking Spurs to this stage of the tournament but his weakened team offered an excellent Ajax far too much respect in the opening 20 minutes.
The hosts had hardly had a kick by the time they were sliced open by a brilliant passing move in the 15th minute.
It involved Lasse Schone and Hakim Ziyech, who slipped in Van De Beek and he had an age to pick his spot low past Hugo Lloris.
The goal survived a VAR check for offside and it was almost two eight minutes later but another picturebook move, which saw Dusan Tadic play Van De Beek in, was thwarted by the legs of Lloris.
Spurs’ evening took another turn for the worse after Vertonghen suffered a head injury which left him bloodied and dazed and he could barely walk down the tunnel after a brave attempt to play on was short-lived.
That injury forced the early introduction of barely-fit Mousa Sissoko and that gave Spurs a more focused attitude.
Lucas Moura caused panic with a surging run into penalty area while Toby Alderweireld headed a good chance over.
They carried on that momentum after the restart as Dele Alli, anonymous in the first half, had a shot blocked then fired an instinctive first-time volley straight at Onana before heading another opportunity over.
For all their bluster, Spurs were unable to force Onana into a serious save and in the end it was the woodwork that kept them in the tie.
A quick counter saw Ajax work the ball across goal to Neres, but his side-footed shot hit the far post and Spurs survived.
Pochettino said: “In the first half we started not in a good way. Ajax showed more energy, it was difficult for us to play. It was our lack of energy.
“After we conceded the goal – 25 to 30 minutes in – we started to be in the game. Moussa Sissoko provided good energy.
“Second half we pushed them and tried to create chances. It was an even game in the second half. We are alive. It’s only 1-0 down. We need to believe we can go there and win the game.
On playing with a five-man defence, Pochettino said: “Watching now of course I can accept it was a mistake the shape we used. But there were not too many options. I am not happy – you cannot guess what happens if we play in a different way. But our lack of energy… and a little sloppy.
“It was the not the shape that conceded the goal. Our approach to the game was not good. I am the manager so i have responsibility.”