Dusan Tadic has praised the ‘complete mentality’ of Ajax teammates Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt ahead of their Champions League semi-final clash with Tottenham Hotspur.
The Amsterdam giants are this season’s surprise package in Europe’s premier club competition having eliminated 13-time champions Real Madrid and Juventus en route to a final four berth.
Five things to know about Ajax’s incredible Champions League run:
- Ajax are the first Champions League semi-finalist to come through three qualifying rounds, last reaching the semi-finals in 1997.
- Ajax are unbeaten on their Champions League travels: three wins (at AEK Athens, Real Madrid and Juventus) and two draws (at Bayern Munich and Benfica).
- Matthijs de Ligt is the youngest starting captain in a Champions League knockout match ever.
- Frenkie de Jong has played more passes than any other Ajax player in each of their four Champions League knockout matches.
- Tadic, who has six goals and four assists in the UCL this season, has been hailed as Ajax’s “own CR7”.
Their run means Erik ten Hag’s men become the first Ajax team to reach a European Cup semi-final for 22 years, and they are two games away from contesting de Godenzonen’s seventh final.
A key part of their incredible journey has been a switch in the makeup of manager Ten Hag’s first-team squad. Ajax are no longer a club lace with promising talents, instead there’s a nice blend of youth and experience.
Ahead of their first Champions League qualification game, sporting director Marc Overmars opened his chequebook to acquire the services of Tadic (30) and former player Daley Blind (29) from Southampton and Manchester United respectively.
Both have been integral to Ajax’s fortunes this season and will again play a starring role against Spurs, but Tadic feels two promising Dutch footballers will also be key. Both have impressed him since joining the record 33-time Dutch champions whose overarching philosophy has got the best of him.
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“It is not strange for me to see the young players without fear. It is in the Ajax DNA. They don’t care about pressure. I really like the philosophy,” he told The Sun.
“We always dominate and we don’t care if we are home or away. We always play our football, this is our biggest strength.
“The only problem is that if you don’t try things or take risks, then the coach will say something. Even if you make mistakes, they want you to play and enjoy it.
“De Ligt is 19, De Jong is 21, but they think like a 30-year-old. Their brains are amazing. Their mentality is complete. You cannot buy this. I have never seen it in my life. They will suit everyone. They have everything in their game.”
A 10-month journey
When this season’s Champions League round of 16 draw was being made – one team stood out. Of those about to play knockout football, Ajax were the only side to have qualified for the group stage that had wrapped up.
The Amsterdammers, because of how poor Dutch clubs have performed in Europe recently, had to begin in the second qualification round. Their first leg against Austrian outfit Sturm Graz, which they’d win 2-0, took place ten days after the 2018 World Cup final between France and Croatia.
After getting past Sturm Graz there were clashes with Standard Liège and then Dynamo Kyiv for a place in the group stage. Ajax would then finish runners-up to Bayern Munich thus condemning Benfica to Europa League football with AEK Athens finishing bottom pointless.
— Johan Cruyff (@JohanCruyff) March 5, 2019
Real Madrid, the reigning champions and winners of the last three editions, were next up in the round of 16 – many expected their journey would end here, but Ajax surprised everyone (and themselves) by eliminating Los Blancos. A stunning 4-1 second-leg win in Madrid, which saw Tadic produce an individual performance for the ages, put everyone on notice. Juventus, who Real eliminated in the quarter-finals last season, fell at this stage again.
De Ligt’s winning goal in Turin saw him he became the youngest Dutch player to score in a Champions League knockout match (19 years 246 days) since Nordin Wooter in April 1996 for Ajax against Panathinaikos (19 years 237 days).
Spurs, featuring a few ex-Ajax players, know there’s a formidable obstacle between them reaching a first European Cup final.