Spurs made me fall in love with the beautiful game all over again
For a time growing up, I didn’t really consider soccer a viable sport for watching. I was the classic American blinded by the flopping (this part of the game does still bother me) and perceived lack of physicality. My feelings about soccer changed with the 2010 World Cup.
During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I really got a grasp on the amazing skill the top athletes possess and fell in love with soccer during that World Cup. Playing for a national team was an admirable cause and the passion the players showed out there on the pitch was incredible. However, I still hadn’t made the decision to watch club soccer.
That changed in August of 2012 when Clint Dempsey joined Tottenham Hotspur, a club located in North London playing in the Premier League. There have been ups and downs with the club since then and I’ve learned a lot about the game in the meantime. However, I don’t think experienced highs and lows all at once in a match quite like today’s Champions League semifinal between Tottenham and Ajax. Allow me to set the stage for you.
Champions League semifinals consist of two games, with each team hosting a contest. The team that has the highest aggregate goal total at the end of the two games advances to the final. If the two sides are even, the side that scored the most away goals advances. Spurs lost the first match at their new home, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, in North London 1-0. This meant that Tottenham would need to win the contest at Ajax’s home stadium and score at least two goals to advance to the Champions League Final in Madrid.
The nerves set in for me before the contest even began but Tottenham’s Premier League foe, Liverpool pulling off an even more unlikely comeback against Barcelona gave me hope. That hope was all but dashed when Matthijs de Ligt scored just five minutes into the contest and was completely dashed when Hakim Ziyech added to Ajax’s goal total, giving the Dutch side a 2-0 lead going into the half.
I could say that I had faith Tottenham would pull off the unthinkable and somehow overcome the 3-0 aggregate-goal deficit in the second half but I’d be lying. Ajax had outclassed Tottenham in every aspect of the game and had the home field advantage. There was no doubt in my mind that Spurs were out of it. Until they weren’t.
55 minutes into the game or 10 minutes into the second half, Lucas Moura netted a goal to bring the match within one goal. Four minutes later, Moura would find twine once again bringing the match score to 2-2. However, Tottenham still needed one more goal in order to overcome the 3-2 aggregate deficit.
Tottenham was on the offensive for the next 35 minutes, controlling a large portion of the action. Of course, that’s not to say that Ajax didn’t have several counter chances. In fact, Ziyech nearly ended Spurs chances with a shot that ended up going harmlessly off the goalpost. My heart was beating out of control by this point. However, as the game passed the 90th minute and headed into stoppage time, Tottenham still hadn’t found a way to score the semifinal winning goal. With five minutes of stoppage time left, Ajax needed only to run the clock out to secure their place against Liverpool in Madrid. Unfortunately for Ajax, Lucas Moura had other plans.
With literally seconds left in the contest, Mousa Sissoko sent a hail mary of a ball up the pitch which Fernando Llorente managed to deflect to the feet of a waiting Dele Alli. A beautiful pass by Alli found Lucas Moura and Moura was able to finish, notching a hat trick and sending Tottenham to the Champions League Final at the actual last second. If you don’t believe me take a look at the clock.
With that incredible Lucas Moura goal, I was reminded of why I became attracted to soccer in the first place. The high and lows, the joy and the pain, everything that makes watching sports so incredible was on display in this game. The passion and determination it took for Spurs to claw their way back from the jaws of defeat made me fall in love with the beautiful game once more. I suppose not everyone will be a fan of soccer, but after the contest I witnessed today, I can’t understand why anyone would choose to miss out. Much like Texas A&M's seven overtime thriller against LSU, I don’t think I’ll be forgetting this Champions League Semifinal anytime soon.