Wednesday, May 1, 2019

UCL Semi-Finals 1st Legs: Ajax and Barça make early gains

THE EREDIVISIE AND LA LIGA TEAMS BEAT THE PREMIER LEAGUE


So it looks like it will not be an all-English final showdown in the UEFA Champions League after all.

Tottenham's 0-1 reverse to Ajax and Liverpool's three-goal defeat at Barcelona means the Cruyff final is on the cards instead.

THE EREDIVISIE AND LA LIGA TEAMS BEAT THE PREMIER LEAGUE


It has been a bad 48 hours for the world's richest division, the English Premier League.

Young Dutch masters rained on Spurs' parade in their stunning new stadium, outpassing and outplaying them on their home ground.

From Harry Kane's injury and Son Heung-Min's suspension to Dele Ali's frustration, Fernando Llorente's missed headers and Jan Vertonghen's concussion, nothing would go right for the Londoners.

Spurs were weary warriors by the end of the match, but a one-goal deficit and Son's return for the away leg mean they have not lost all hope of making the final.

Liverpool look beaten after going down 3-0 in the Camp Nou but can count themselves a tad unlucky. They had more of the ball than the hosts, matched Barcelona for shots on target and missed a couple of good ones to boot, Mo Salah striking the post in the second half being particularly galling. Football can be a cruel game and final scores are often inadequate summaries of the previous 90 minutes.

The Blaugrana looked rather mundane at times and certainly nowhere near as crisp and fluid as Ajax had been the night before. Ernesto Valverde changed their famous 4-3-3 to a 4-4-1-1 to combat the risk of the Reds pouring forward as they have done all season and only magic moments from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez spared their blushes.

Ousmane Dembele should have made it four and game over in the 96th minute but scuffed his shot, leaving a chink of light for the Reds at Anfield.

Ajax were the best of the four semi-finalists on the evidence of the first legs. Their team spirit is on a high and their telepathic quick passing to feet is potent enough to carry them to Madrid.

Their Champions League dream continues to gather fervour. I was on a plane from Amsterdam to London carrying Dutch fans and their expectations were giddy. For the first time in more than two decades supporters can dream of the big prize and with the knowledge their club is too poor to retain its starlets, they are making the most of their joy while it lasts.

The fact Ajax are an assembly of homegrown kids and offloaded players like Dusan Tadic from Southampton and they do not play in one of Europe's big leagues means they deserve even more credit and neutral support.

A mesmeric name in football culture renowned for schooling footballers better than anyone - Tottenham played Amsterdam old boys Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen, Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen for instance, the latest crop in red and white will nevertheless dissolve in the summer like all the others have, cherry-picked by richer clubs from bigger leagues.

It seems tragic that just as a great team has been created it will be dismantled but that is the price for a lack of financial fair play across UEFA.

Frenkie De Jong for one will be moving to Barcelona in July. The two clubs could yet meet in the final in Madrid on the first of June.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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