Erik ten Hag laments Ajax’s ‘cruel’ Champions League exit

Ajax manager Erik ten Hag was left to rue the manner of his side’s “cruel” Champions League exit following Lucas Moura’s dramatic 96th-minute winner for Tottenham.

After winning the first leg of their semi-final tie in north London 1-0, Ajax played host to Spurs for the return fixture in Amsterdam on Wednesday night.

19-year-old captain Matthijs de Ligt headed Ajax into a fifth-minute lead before Hakim Ziyech put them into a two-goal lead heading into the break and, critically, a 3-0 aggregate advantage.

But Lucas Moura struck twice inside the space of just four minutes to put Spurs back in contention. The Brazilian winger then scored a dramatic 96th-minute winner to send Mauricio Pochettino’s men to the final on away goals after finishing 3-3 on aggregate.

And Ten Hag was left to lament the way Ajax lost the tie after losing such a commanding lead.

“I told the players that first of all it’s very hard to find the right words for a moment like that, and that football can be cruel,” said Ten Hag, according to Yahoo.

“This is the cruel side of football that we have to endure tonight, but we’ll have to go on.

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“We can’t do that in a couple of hours or a couple of days, I can’t ask that of the players, but if you’re so close and the Champions League is so unique, and the players all realise that a lot, you need time to get over that, but we’ll have to.

“We’ll have to get back on track before Sunday [against Utrecht] and we’ll have to start with that on time. You cannot wait for too long or we won’t be ready for Sunday.”

The Ajax boss added: “We were so close and we deserved it. Giving away the lead was careless. I calmly told the players that it was not over yet. You saw that Spurs still believed.

“You have to keep going, but it became increasingly difficult. Spurs started to play more opportunistically and we just didn’t play well on the counter-attack.

“If we had scored instead of hitting the post, we would have ended the match.”

Ajax will next play Utrecht on Sunday in an Eredivisie match, where they hope to claim victory to hold on to their narrow lead at the top of the league table.

As things stand, Ajax are level with PSV Eindhoven on 80 points at the top of the Eredivisie but ahead on superior win and goal difference ahead of the two final games of the season.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS – MAY 08: Lucas Moura of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates after scoring his team’s third goal as Andre Onana of Ajax reacts during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final second leg match between Ajax and Tottenham Hotspur at the Johan Cruyff Arena on May 08, 2019 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images )

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