LONDON – Ajax defeated Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 on Tuesday in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal tie that was not as close as the score would indicate.
The Dutch side offered a master class in the “total football” pioneered by Johan Cruyff, stunning Spurs with their willingness to embrace wide-open play on their opponents home turf.
And the high spirits of supporters in the stands at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium faded as the first half wore on.
Tottenham have shown they can win without top scorer Harry Kane, who is again sidelined by injury. But they had to face Tuesday’s contest minus their No. 2 goal-getter.
Son Heung-min, who has produced some crucial goals for Spurs this season, was serving a one-match suspension for accumulation of yellow cards in Champions League play.
Well aware of Ajax’s prowess on the attack, manager Mauricio Pochettino opted for a 5-2-3, yet the decision left Wanyama and Eriksen outnumbered in midfield by De Jong, Schöne and Van de Beek.
And it was Donny van de Beek who put Ajax up 1-0 in the 15th minute.
Taking advantage of a misjudgment by Spurs defender Danny Rose, Hakim Ziyech slipped a pass to Van de Beek, who lured goalkeeper Hugo Lloris into committing too early before unleashing a low blast.
The night grew worse for the home side when a collision between defenders Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld left the former bloodied and unsteady on his feet.
Vertonghen tried to continue after receiving first aid, but was forced to withdraw in the 39th minute in favor of midfielder Moussa Sissoko.
The substitute entailed a shift to a 4-3-3 formation, which eliminated Ajax’s numerical advantage in midfield and created additional space for Spurs on the attack.
The London squad had more of the ball in the second half, yet failed to pose any serious threats to the Ajax goal. Fernando Llorente put plenty of balls into the box, but without Kane or Son, Tottenham lacked a reliable finisher.
In fact, Spurs were lucky not to concede a second goal in the 78th minute, when only the post stopped David Neres from making it 2-0 for Ajax.
Tottenham, trying to reach their first European final, will have it all to do next Wednesday in the second leg at Amsterdam’s Johan Cruyff Arena.