A single minute remained, maybe less. Maybe just a few seconds separated Ajax from the Champions League final. Somehow, even as the energy drained from their legs and the tension gripped their minds, this team that glimpses the future and echoes the past, had clung on.
And now the clock ticked down through five minutes of injury time, each somehow slower, more agonizing than the last. Tottenham poured forward, pummeling Ajax. Hugo Lloris, the Spurs goalkeeper, trotted upfield for a corner. It came to nothing. That is, traditionally, the final roll of the dice, the last act. Once that has failed, it is over. Eyes drifted to Felix Brych, the German referee, the man who could bring the torture to an end.
Ajax had the ball, deep in Tottenham territory. The wait was almost over. Ten months’ work. Just another few seconds. A decade of painstaking rebuilding, of thought and planning. Not long now. Twenty-three years since Ajax last graced club soccer’s greatest game. Almost there.
And then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone. Time speed up. Everything became a blur. The ball nestled in Ajax’s goal. Lucas Moura, his hat trick complete, was buried under an avalanche of teammates. Tottenham’s coaching staff and substitutes poured on to the field, racing to join in.
They screamed past the Ajax players scattered over the grass, lying face down, barely able to move even when Brych told them to get up, told them they had to finish the game, told them — though he was, it turned out, not correct — that they would have one more chance. It was not supposed to end like this. A season of such joy was not supposed to lead such pain.
Pochettino has never won a major honor. He has twice crafted Premier League title challenges, seemingly out of nowhere, before ultimately falling short. He has been roundly condemned for his very obvious disdain for England’s domestic cups, for his belief that what matters is qualifying for the Champions League, not winning the Carabao Cup.