This being Tottenham in Europe, no-one will be writing them off just yet. It was, however, a desperately disappointing night for a team their manager believes should reach for the stars.
Not just the defeat, which leaves them needing victory in Amsterdam to progress to the Champions League final. That was bad enough. But the air of invincibility in their new stadium is gone, after two defeats in four days.
Losing to local irritants West Ham could be dismissed as a blip, but conceding here and being second best for long periods shows that good foundations involve more than just architecture. Tottenham need a team as good as their new home; until they get that, there will always be frustrations.
Ajax took the lead after a superb 15 minutes when Donny van de Beek found himself in behind with just Hugo Lloris to beat
The midfielder faked to shoot once before firing a low effort into the far corner after Lloris had already dived to his right
Van de Beek ran to the away dugout after scoring to celebrate while the goal was given the all clear from VAR for no offside
Fernando Llorente and his Tottenham team-mates look deflated after handing a potentially vital away goal to the visitors
Mauricio Pochettino cut a frustrated figure on the touchline after watching his team concede an away goal to their opponents
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND MATCH ZONE
Tottenham: Lloris, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen (Sissoko 39), Trippier (Foyth 78), Eriksen, Wanyama, Rose (Davies 78), Alli, Llorente, Lucas Moura.
Subs not used: Gazzaniga, Dier, Walker-Peters, Skipp.
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Ajax: Onana, Veltman, De Ligt, Blind, Tagliafico, Van de Beek, Schone (Mazraoui 64), De Jong, Ziyech (Huntelaar 86), Tadic, Neres.
Subs not used: Varela, Sinkgraven, Magallan, Dolberg, De Wit.
Goals: Van de Beek 15
Bookings: Tagliafico, Veltman
Manager: Erik ten Hag
Referee: Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz
Ajax took the lead after 15 minutes when Donny van de Beek finished superbly past Hugo Lloris. Click HERE for more from our MATCH ZONE.
On the plus side, it could have been worse. Had David Neres shot on 78 minutes not hit a post, Tottenham could have been close to out. It looked to be going in. Hugo Lloris was stranded to the extent he didn’t even dive. But the woodwork denied Ajax and Tottenham breathed again.
Recalling the fine margins of Sergio Aguero’s offside in the last round, one might even think it was fated to be their year – were it not for the result, and the resilience of this young Ajax side.
As impressive as they were controlling the game before half-time, so they were admirable in their resistance as Tottenham strived for an equaliser late on. Ajax had the best scoring opportunities, but Tottenham dominated the second-half, yet met a defensive wall every bit as substantial as the towering white wall behind Ajax’s goal.
Those fans did their best to suck the ball into Ajax’s net, but goalkeeper Andre Onana and his back four held firm. It helped, obviously, that Tottenham were shorn of their two most effective forwards – Harry Kane and the suspended Hueng-min Son. The Korean will be back for the second leg, but not Kane – and perhaps not Jan Vertonghen, too, after what looked to be a serious head injury.
The margins are still tight, but this was a dispiriting reverse for Tottenham, speaking not just to the next seven days, but the short term future in their new home. This was a blow.
For a variety of reasons it was a horrid first-half for Tottenham. Ajax were the better side, scored an away goal, had the best of the chances and, to add injury to insult, Jan Vertonghen was lost to a spiteful head wound that may be compounded with concussion that will keep him out of the return leg next Wednesday in Amsterdam.
Mauricio Pochettino and Erik Ten Hag shared a warm embrace on the touchline before the game got underway on Tuesday
A stunning mosaic in the spectacular single-tier stand at Tottenham’s new stadium greeted the players onto the pitch
An Ajax fan passionately roars with his shirt off as the Dutch fans arrived in their thousands to cheer their team on in London
Former Ajax midfielder Christian Eriksen passes the ball to a team-mate as he looks to inflict some damage in the early stages
Tottenham winger Lucas Moura goes down under a late challenge from former Manchester United defender Daley Blind
Ajax winger David Neres flies through the air as he tries to control the ball as the Dutch side controlled possession early on
From the start, Tottenham did not look entirely comfortable. Davinson Sanchez – one of three players Tottenham have bought directly from Ajax – was caught in possession by Donny van de Beek and recovered frantically to concede nothing more serious than a corner.
Yet David Neres was getting in behind Tottenham on the right, Dusan Tadic was linking play neatly as always and van de Beek is the type of smart, inventive forward midfield player that the Dutch produce as if from an assembly line. As their control of the game mounted, it was only a matter of time before Ajax did serious damage.
After 15 minutes, they did just that. Neves started the move on the left, but Lasse Schone and Hakim Ziyech were also involved, the latter finding van de Beek in a fabulous position, played onside by Kieran Trippier. For a moment, time stood still, van de Beek almost imagining a raised flag, or the belated intrusion of VAR. It had saved Tottenham in Manchester. Not this time.
Van de Beek paused long enough to let Hugo Lloris commit, having shown him his intended target – a red herring, of course. His finish was coolness personified, although Ajax’s celebrations revealed their true feelings.
It could have been worse for Tottenham, immediately after. Neves down the left again and Tottenham so stretched Danny Rose ended up being drawn to the near post, almost turning his block into his own net.
A superb, inch-perfect pass found Van de Beek inside the penalty area and he showed sublime composure to finish off
The 22-year-old also scored away at Juventus and ran over to the Ajax bench to celebrate with his team-mates and coaches
Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana pumps his fist in celebration in front of the visiting fans after they took the lead on 15 minutes
Van de Beek’s opening goal sparked pandemonium in the away end as fans climbed all over each other to celebrate the strike
Llorente had a good chance to cut the deficit but the striker failed to hit the target with a powerful header from a free-kick
Ajax left back Nicolas Tagliafico was the first player to be carded after a rash challenge that ended a Tottenham attack
Ten Hag barks instructions at his players as they dominated the opening exchanges against their Premier League opposition
Van de Beek could have got a second on 24 minutes, put through by a Tadic pass, and forcing an excellent save from Lloris. Had that gone in, it would have been desperately hard for Tottenham to recover – despite the charmed nature of their European run so far.
Tottenham were rattled, no doubt about it, and Danny Rose was very fortunate referee Antonio Maheu Lahoz did not see his tussle with Joel Veltman after the ball had gone. Rose briefly had an arm cocked and ready to deliver, but wisely thought better of it.
Soon after, Mauricio Pochettino moved him forward, switched to a back four, and deployed Vertonghen in a left-back role. It was not a change that would last long.
In the 33rd minute, both of Tottenham’s centre-backs attacked a high ball into the area – the best route to goal for the home side in the first-half – and were laid out by Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana.
Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen receives medical attention after sustaining a painful blow that forced him off after 38 minutes
Pochettino had to help Vertonghen off the pitch as the Belgian stumbled around after a blow to the face by his own team-mate
Ajax had a chance to make it 2-0 but Van de Beek chose to shoot instead of rolling the ball across to the unmarked Neres
Alderweireld had a chance to cut the deficit just before the break but his looping header landed on the roof of the net
Moussa Sissoko unleashes a powerful shot towards the top corner but it just veered away off target for the Frenchman
Frenkie de Jong was a calming presence all evening for Ajax as he broke up attacks and set the tempo for his team
He looked a bit of a flapper with the aerial stuff which might explain it, but his style seemed a throwback to the days when duels from set pieces were very much wars of attrition. Out he came, one fist for Vertonghen, the other for Alderweireld – and both men were left on the canvas when the ball was finally cleared.
Alderweireld was up relatively quickly, but it was clear Vertonghen was in trouble. There was a lot of blood, possibly a broken nose and when he was finally ready to continue, he first had to change shirt and shorts for health and safety reasons.
Maheu Lahoz did not seem happy with his reintroduction but what first looked like a little extra mopping up was soon revealed as a more serious concern. No sooner had play restarted, than Vertonghen raised his hand and began walking uncertainly to the touchline. He bent double and began, if not vomiting, then certainly retching. His knees buckled. Visually, he had all the symptoms of concussion. He was helped down the tunnel by two members of Tottenham’s staff barely able to walk straight. How he got permission to continue, even for seconds, who knows?
Dele Alli climbs above Joel Veltman at the back post but the England international couldn’t direct his header towards goal
Neres tries to weave between Sissoko and Victor Wanyama as Ajax looked threatening on the break in the second half
Danny Rose jumps into the air to compete for a cross into the box with Onana but he was adjudged to have fouled the keeper
Former Southampton player Dusan Tadic tries his luck from distance but the Tottenham rearguard get across to block it away
Ajax nearly doubled their lead with just over 10 minutes to play but Neres struck the post after leaving Lloris helpless
Time stood still as Neres’ shot rolled across the penalty area but struck the base of the far post and rolled away to safety
Moura’s frustrations boiled over as he complained at Alli during one attacking phase as Ajax held firm to deny Spurs a goal
Ironically, this blow, had a galvanising effect for Tottenham. The delay cost Ajax their rhythm and Tottenham’s set pieces exposed weakness in their opponents.
Fernando Llorente had already come close from a Trippier free-kick – steering a header over in what was a good scoring position – and Alderweireld almost equalised from a similar delivery by Christian Eriksen.
Yet, as so often happens, Tottenham looked better after 15 minutes with Pochettino – they haven’t led at half-time in any of their Champions League matches this season – and started brightly with a couple of chances.
Good initial skill from Llorente ended in a miscontrol but the ball fell to Dele Alli whose shot was blocked. Lucas Moura then fed Alli on the left side of the area, and ambitious scissor kick ending in a comfortable save from Onana.