Ajax knows what it needs to do in Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final return game against Tottenham Hotspur. The Amsterdam team is enjoying a 1-0 lead. It was Donny van de Beek who scored the winning goal in the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. On Tuesday, coach Erik ten Hag and Daley Blind addressed the press. Another interesting game awaits against the Spurs.
The season has been long and grueling. But the more games the Ajacieds play, the fitter the players seem to become. It’s nothing short of a wonder, especially on the eve of match 56. “At the start of the season, nobody could have imagined that this is where we would be”, said Daley Blind in the ArenA’s press room.
“We’re growing as a team”, continued Blind. “We need to appraoch the game against Tottenham as if it’s 0-0. And we also need to play our own Ajax game. Let’s not take anything for granted. We need to be aggressive. The match isn’t a done deal.”
Last week, thanks to Van de Beek’s winning goal, Ajax put itself into a good position for the return. “Last week’s away goal was important. And we scored it”, said Erik ten Hag, looking back. “A specific mindset will be required tomorrow as well. We will need to do it ourselves. We’ll need to stay close to who we are and play our own game. We’
“I’m expecting us to take a new step tomorrow, reach a new milestone”
Previously, Ajax had defeated Real Madrid and Juventus, teams from top football countries such as Spain and Italy. The Ajacieds were also dominant against Bayern Munich. “We’re playing this semi-final against a Premier League team. The intensity will be different than in other games”, explains Ten Hag. “I’m expecting that we’ll take a new step tomorrow, reach a new milestone. We need to win this match. We’re going to go for that. Ajax will need to play from its own strengths. We’ll start as if we’re at 0-0. That’s how we’re going to start, in any case. We’re going to have to give our best, and, once again, reach a new milestone.”
In contrast, Tottenham Hotspur isn't having a good period. Last weekend, the London team lost to Bournemouth. “We’re in a good phase, we’re in good shape”, said Blind, referring to Ajax’s form. But he goes on to warn: “Tottenham will see that as a match in itself.” The return offers the Spurs a good opportunity to show what they can do.
'Biggest game in ArenA'
Did all of the Ajacieds emerge fit from the cup final win? Ten Hag: “Only David (Neres) left the final with an injury. He’ll be training with us later. We’re going to be cautious, but he might be with us.”
After the cup victory, there was euphoria on the Kuip field, and later – briefly – in the privacy of the ArenA. “Our focus was immediately on the Spurs after that game”, said Ten Hag with satisfaction. “This is Ajax’s biggest game in the ArenA.”
Who knows, perhaps Ajax will qualify for the Champions League finals. The outlook is good. It would be a new high point in a remarkable season. In which area has Ajax undergone the greatest development? Blind: “Mostly with our field play, fighting and resilience. We’ve grown closer as a team. Everyone will walk through fire for each other.”
Overmars, Van Gaal and Cruijff
If Ajax reaches the finals, they will make true what Marc Overmars, Louis van Gaal and Johan Cruijff did before. “It’s up to us to make it happen: to reach the finals.”
In conclusion: how would Blind summarize Ajax’s sensational Champions League season? “In one word: fantastic. We’ve shown what we’re capable of. For example against Bayern Munich. Amazing to experience this, at the club I grew up in. I’m so proud to be part of this team. Proud to be able to contribute to these achievements.”