Tearful Pochettino lauds 'heroes' in Spurs' dramatic win over Ajax
Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino praised his players as "heroes" after their dramatic 3-2 win at Ajax Amsterdam secured the London club's first ever Champions League final appearance.
"Still difficult to talk. The emotion is amazing, thank you to football," an emotional Pochettino told BT Sport following Wednesday's match. "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 no possible. Thank you to everyone who has believed in us. To describe this in words is difficult."
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Lucas Moura struck a hat trick -- including a last-gasp goal in the 96th minute -- to stun Ajax, who had led the first leg 1-0 on aggregate and were knocked out on away goals.
"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," Pochettino said. "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 five years before."
Moura called the win the "best moment in my life -- in my career.
"Impossible to explain what I'm feeling,"the Brazilian told BT Sport. "I'm very happy and very proud of my teammates. Always believe in this moment. We gave everything on the pitch and deserved this moment -- we are family. Impossible to explain. Big gift from God I'd like to share with teammates, friends and family."
Spurs midfielder and former Ajax player Christian Eriksen called the win a "ridiculous game."
"We were really far down, we tried to fight back, we were just lucky," the Dane told BT Sport. "I feel sorry for Ajax, they played a very good game against us, today we mostly created more chance, football they played better, it is a 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, Luca had a wonderful game, we are relieved."
After Liverpool fought back from a 3-0 first-leg defeat to beat Barcelona 4-3 on aggregate on Tuesday, the final will be an all-English affair.
Spurs defender Danny Rose said that he had taken inspiration from the Merseysiders.
"We saw Liverpool last night. It goes to show it's not over until it's over. Disappointed with the first leg, how we started and we started like that tonight. But after the break we came out," Rose said.
"The gaffer mentioned Liverpool's display at the hotel before the match -- the gaffer doesn't mind us losing but we have to lose the right way."
There was one major tactical shift that did play a crucial role in the victory, however. At halftime Pochettino took out midfielder Victor Wanyama and replaced him with Spanish forward Fernando Llorente.
Llorente, whose main asset is his height and strength in the air, placed himself on Ajax defender Daley Blind and that upset the solidity of the Dutch defence.
The Spaniard's presence caused confusion and created instability which Moura was able to exploit to the full.
With a big man as a focal point for the attack, Tottenham were able to take a more direct approach -- with crosses from deep and in the latter stages, hopeful punts into the box.
Llorente would not have been on the field had Spurs' first choice striker Harry Kane been fit but the injured England captain was in the dressing room at the break and he said the focus was purely on effort.
"At half time we said it is 45 minutes to give everything... the lads dug deep, showed passion, showed character, showed heart and that is what it's all about," said Kane.
"Over the two legs we didn't play as well as we would have liked but we found a way to win," he added.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.