Ajax beat Tottenham in London in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final to claim a vital away goal and a fantastic win.
To be fair it isn’t often that we have witnessed both teams get this far in the competition. Indeed for Tottenham it is the first since the rebranding of the competitions name in 1992/93 and their first since 1962.
For Ajax the last time the team were this good was in 1996 when they reached their second Champions League final in a row only to lose on penalties against Juventus. But rewind a year before when Ajax won the competition and beat the great Milan side of the 90s in the process.
That Ajax side were remembered for the youths that came through the side and stunned European football. Players such as Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids and Jari Litmanen just to name a few. All went on to play for the biggest sides in Europe- but that night will always remain the most special for the players.
The 1995 win was also the first for the club since 1973 when they won 3 European Cups in a row between 1971-73, headed by the great Johan Cruyff. There has always been quality and a sense of total football with Ajax since the 70s but since the early 2000s the club have suffered.
Youngsters were not coming through as frequently and when, on rare occasions, they did they would be sold and moved on when they were clearly too young. A new generation did threaten a couple of years ago when Ajax reached the Europa League final against Manchester United, but the Dutch side were simply not ready for Jose Mourinho’s side at that point.
This season has been unbelievable for them. They look on course to win the Dutch league and have been phenomenal in the Champions League. Not only did they end Real Madrid’s 3 year hold on the competition they destroyed them in their own back yard winning 4-1.
Next up was Juventus and not just any old Juventus, but the club that had bought Ronaldo from Madrid in order to win their first Champions League since 1996. But Ajax stayed professional throughout and won 3-2 over 2 legs, impressively beating Juventus in Italy.
In some ways this match up with Tottenham was fascinating. Ajax had rarely faced a stronger Tottenham side but Tottenham had never faced such a skilful and peaceful Ajax team. The way Ajax started the game in Tottenham’s new stadium was incredible- one was reminded of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona from 2011.
It is a joy to behold to see how strong Ajax have become- the 2nd leg is still up for grabs of course but it does look like Ajax have one foot in the final. The likes of Matthijs De Ligt, Donny van de Beek,- who scored against Tottenham, Frenkie de Jong and Hakim Ziyech have been a revelation and a shot in the arm for European football.
Can Ajax recall teams of the past and make it to the final and possibly even win it- it’s not such a pipedream like it was at the beginning of the year. It feels like a reality and it is clear that Ajax mean business.