UEFA Champions League: Ajax coach proud of players after agonising defeat
Ajax coach Erik ten Hag expressed pride in his team after seeing their rousing Champions League run come to an end in cruel fashion in their semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday.
“I’m very proud of this team and that they made it this far. We have had a great run,” Ten Hag said after the Dutch club were beaten on away goals on a dramatic night at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
Lucas Moura’s 96th-minute strike to complete his second-half hat-trick made it 3-2 to Spurs on the night and 3-3 on aggregate as the Premier League club progressed to the final against Liverpool.
Ajax had been 2-0 up on the night, and 3-0 ahead in the tie, after first-half goals by captain Matthijs de Ligt and Hakim Ziyech.
Having eliminated Real Madrid and Juventus in the previous two rounds, they were on the brink of a first Champions League final appearance for the club in 23 years and their players slumped to the turf in despair when Lucas got the winner.
“We tried to shut the game down and we didn’t manage,” admitted Ten Hag, with Ziyech also hitting the post late on for the home side.
“I told the players it is very hard to find the right words in a moment like this and that football is cruel.
“We have to endure the cruel side tonight but we have to go on.
“The Champions League final is so unique and the players all realise that very well so you need time to get over it, but we have to get back on track on Sunday.”
Ajax have already won the Dutch Cup this season and can still complete a domestic double before their talented squad is inevitably broken up at the end of the campaign.
They are neck and neck with PSV Eindhoven at the top of the Eredivisie heading into the final two matches.
They play Utrecht at home on Sunday, meaning there is little time to wallow in this defeat.
“We will have to deal with this and regain composure,” he added.
“We owe it to ourselves and the fans. We have had a great season, we have one prize and this group of players is so resilient. We will be there on the pitch on Sunday.”