What's the most insightful statement I can offer in preview of today's Champions League Semifinal, in which red-and-white-hot Ajax come to visit my beloved Tottenham Hotspur?
I'm definitely feeling nervous. Lords knows what the people actually involved in the game are feeling.
Oh, but you want to read something about the actual game? Okay, I'll do my best.
There's no serious question that this is the most important match in the history of Tottenham Hotspur. The team just opened a new stadium; it is widely reported (in the English-language press, anyway) to be the best football stadium in the world. And tonight (in their time zone--the game starts at 1pm here), all eyes are on them. They will be playing in front of a truly world-wide audience.
So hey, no pressure, right?
Ajax have been giant killers this year. They knocked out two of the top European teams ever, Real Madrid and Juventus, in the round of 16 and quarterfinals, respectively. Everyone thinks they are punching above their weight. They have a very young team that no one expects to stay together a whole lot longer, the economics of soccer being what they are.
And here's Tottenham Hotspur, showing off a new stadium and with it announcing to the world that the balance of power in European soccer has perhaps shifted.
I mean, what do you think if you're a 21-year-old up-and-coming star at Ajax, knowing that you'll be transferred soon to a bigger, richer club that plays in a bigger league than the Eredivisie will ever be? Do you not walk into this brand-new palace of football and think, Maybe this is the future right here?
On paper, it would seem that Tottenham should be the favorites in this tie. They play in the Premier League, after all. But they arrived here tonight by a grace-of-God near-miracle--that the final goal against them at Manchester was ruled offside. They lack their two biggest players: Harry Kane is out with an ankle injury, and Hyeung-min Son has been suspended for yellow-card accumulation. Meanwhile, Ajax have all the momentum--they've just run roughshod over Real Madrid and Juventus. So today, we may see a flat Tottenham side meet an on-fire Ajax side, and just limply exit the stage.
As a long-time Tottenham fan, I can assure you, that would be a very Spurs way to finish this little European adventure. This weekend, against West Ham United at home--a team they should beat, in other words--they played to a so-so stalemate in the first half and got soundly outplayed in the second. Did this present a clear picture of what they're bringing to the table right now, late in a long season, their small squad now all the smaller? Or was it that they just couldn't really muster the energy for a Saturday match when they knew that Tuesday, they'd be bringing everything they have to this one?
As a fan, I have to hope it's the latter. This could be our moment. A trip to the final would be enormous for the club and the squad. That they would be widely expected to lose that final, against either Messi's Barcelona or Klopp's flying Liverpool, wouldn't matter. They'd be playing in the biggest match in the European club year. It would be amazing.
I don't often watch a match live, but this is certainly the time. Wish me luck.
Oh, yeah: and Spurs, too. Wish them luck, too.