Spurs living the European dream

Tottenham's Lucas Moura training with goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as they prepare for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Ajax Amsterdam at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium today. The Brazilian forward is expected to lead his team's at
Tottenham's Lucas Moura training with goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as they prepare for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Ajax Amsterdam at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium today. The Brazilian forward is expected to lead his team's attack in the absence of the injured Harry Kane and the suspended Son Heung-min.PHOTO: REUTERS

Pochettino banks on collective strength to fire depleted side past fresh Ajax in Champions League

LONDON • Tottenham's casualty list makes for grim reading.

Harry Kane, Erik Lamela and Harry Winks and Serge Aurier are all injured. There are doubts over Moussa Sissoko and Jan Vertonghen. And, crucially, Son Heung-min is suspended.

But, ahead of the first leg of their Champions League semi-final with Ajax today, Mauricio Pochettino believes his injury-hit squad can "go to infinity and beyond".

Having upset the odds to end Manchester City's quest for an unprecedented quadruple, the Spurs manager insisted at his pre-match press conference yesterday that their strength as a collective can overcome Ajax's talented group of rising stars at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

The Argentinian, who has led the north London club to the last four of the Champions League for the first time, is relishing being among European football's elite after cracking rarefied territory.

He said: "To be in a Champions League semi-final is something I dreamed about. You need to settle your dreams.

"The chance to play a semi-final for Tottenham has not happened often (their last appearance at this stage was in the 1962 European Cup).

RARING TO GO

To be in a Champions League semi-final is something I dreamed about. You need to settle your dreams...

It is impossible to be tired, impossible to not be excited to play. I am sure there is no doubt we will have the energy for 90 minutes.

MAURICIO POCHETTINO, Tottenham manager, on preparing his side for their semi-final.

"We are in a circumstance that is not going to change and we must be ready.

"It is impossible to be tired, impossible to not be excited to play. I am sure there is no doubt we will have the energy for 90 minutes."

However, while Pochettino's stretched team were slipping to a sixth defeat in their last 10 Premier League games to West Ham on Saturday, surrendering their unbeaten record at their new ground, Ajax have had a full week to rest as the Dutch league calendar for the weekend was postponed to allow them extra time to prepare.

While Son's ban means Pochettino is robbed of another goal threat, already diminished through Kane's absence, he remains confident their teamwork can compensate for a perceived lack of firepower.

The 47-year-old said: "The point is that we arrive where we are now because we were a team and we are going to be a team.

"I don't care who is going to score. Always, it's an issue to not have all the players fit but, in front of any name, was the team, the collective."

Pochettino, though, will be keenly aware Ajax, who are also enjoying their own footballing renaissance with their first semi-final appearance in 22 years, "have no fear of anyone".

The Dutch outfit are gunning for the treble - last achieved by the 1972 Johan Cryuff-led team - they top the Eredivisie table on goal difference from PSV Eindhoven and play Willem II in next month's Dutch Cup final.

Yet the Champions League remains their main "objective" as Erik ten Hag's players want to write themselves into the club's folklore before the team get inevitably broken up in the summer.

Although Ajax's remarkable progression from the qualifying rounds has come at a price - Frenkie de Jong has agreed a summer blockbuster move to Barcelona - while captain Matthijs de Ligt, Hakim Ziyech and David Neres are set to follow him out of the exit door, Andre Onana feels lifting their fifth European Cup and their first since 1995 would be the perfect send-off.

The Cameroon international, himself a Barcelona target, told Agence France-Presse: "Not just for the goal in and of itself, but for us, because after this season, there will be a lot of players who will leave.

"It is important for us to do something big. If that means winning the treble, that will be simply beautiful."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


TOTTENHAM V AJAX

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2019, with the headline 'Spurs living the European dream'. Print Edition | Subscribe