By any conservative estimation, Tottenham Hotspur have been “almost out” of this season’s UEFA Champions League on three occasions… if not more.
There was the disastrous start to the group stage which saw them take just one point from their first three games; they needed a result away to Barcelona and for Inter Milan to slip up against PSV Eindhoven on the final day of the group stage just to reach the knockout rounds. They cruised past Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16. They came from behind twice and dodged a stoppage-time bullet to beat Manchester City in the quarterfinals.
Then, on Wednesday, down 3-0 with 45 minutes left to play in Amsterdam, Mauricio Pochettino’s “heroes” did it again.
By the time he reached the first of his players to celebrate after sound of the final whistle rang out, Pochettino was already in tears. He would remain that way, off and on, for at least the next 20 minutes, including when he began the gauntlet of post-game interviews.
Pochettino searched for the right words to convey his joy, his shock and his appreciation for everyone and everything tangentially connected to Tottenham’s improbable run to the June 1 final in Madrid. (WATCH HERE)
“It’s still difficult to talk. The emotion is amazing, thank you to football. My players are heroes — in the last year I was telling everyone this group are heroes. The second half, they were amazing. Thank you, football — this type of emotion without football is not possible. Thank you to everyone who has believed in us. To describe this in words is difficult.
“We were talking before the game that when you work and when you feel the love, it’s not stress, it’s passion of the team. We showed we love the sport and football. Today was amazing. It was a joy to watch this kind of game.
“It’s difficult to compete at this level. I am so grateful to be a coach. To be in football and to live this type of football.
“They are all heroes, but [Lucas Moura] was a superhero. From the first to last one — the tough moment to live in [the last five years of his career].”
As for Moura, who scored the heroic second-half hat trick to send Spurs through to the first European final in club history, Christian Eriksen has an idea.
“Today it was non-tactical, more of a fight and a heart performance. Lucas Moura, he’s how we won the game, he deserves it, rollercoaster of a season. For him to get us in the final, I hope he gets a statue in England after this, we are blown away, no real words for it, I feel sorry for Ajax.”
“It was a ridiculous game, we were really far down, we tried to fight back, we were just lucky. I feel sorry for Ajax, they played a very good game against us. Today we mostly created more chances; football, they played better. It is relief, we have been fighting for this, it is a dream to be in the final.
“We felt like we weren’t able to look ourselves in the mirror if we were to go down three or four nil. We had to fight, we scored early to get some momentum, put them under pressure. We are lucky the ball falls in the right direction, Lucas had a wonderful game. We are relieved.”