Pochettino: Spurs can overcome Ajax with ‘bravery and a winning mentality’

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Mauricio Pochettino has experience of a dramatic semi-final second-leg success as he plots Tottenham’s Champions League rescue mission at Ajax.

Spurs travel to Amsterdam on Wednesday looking to overturn last week’s 1-0 first-leg deficit and book a first ever European Cup final appearance.

They may require something special against the Dutch side, who have beaten Real Madrid and Juventus in previous rounds, but that is something Pochettino knows all about from his playing days in South America.

Pochettino went to the final of the Copa Libertadores, South America's version of the Champions League, in 1992
Pochettino went to the final of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s version of the Champions League, in 1992 (Martin Rickett, PA)

The Argentinian was a member of the Newell’s Old Boys side that reached the Copa Libertadores final in 1992 after a thrilling second-leg last-four victory against Colombian side America de Cali.

After the first leg finished 1-1 in Argentina, Newell’s, managed by current Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa, completed the job in Colombia with a penalty shootout win to set up a final appearance with Sao Paulo.

But that does not tell even half of the story.

Pochettino, a 20-year-old making his way in the game, headed his side into an early lead against Cali before admitting to them ‘parking the bus’.

It looked like they were going to hold out until Cali earned a last-gasp leveller when Jorge Da Silva converted from the spot.

A goalless extra time meant it would be decided by penalties and that is when the real drama began, with the longest shootout in Copa Libertadores history.

Pochettino was again in the thick of the action as he missed the seventh penalty, with a horrible skied effort, but his goalkeeper Norberto Scoponi rescued him with two saves as Newell’s claimed an incredible 11-10 victory.

They went on to lose to a star-studded Sao Paulo in the final but this game lives long in Pochettino’s memory.

“It was crazy. I remember this game, how no one believed in us. They were the favourites. It was all prepared [for them],” he said.


“I remember this semi-final because we were so brave. Actually, we didn’t play so bravely! Because we scored early and then we parked the bus. And we tried to play counter-attack.

“Yes, it’s true, we defended all the time. But yes, it was an amazing game.”

Pochettino was disappointed with his side’s display in the opening 30 minutes of the first leg against Ajax last week, before a more direct and physical approach showed that the Dutch side can be got at.

And he believes progression is possible if Spurs replicate the type of bravery his Newell’s team showed 27 years ago.

Leeds United v Aston Villa – Sky Bet Championship – Elland Road
Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa was in charge of Newell’s Old Boys in the early 1990s (Clint Hughes/PA)

“It’s possible. It’s possible if you play bravely and play with a winning mentality,” he said. “That is the most important thing.

“I think you, the fans, mostly the players – we feel all disappointed because we didn’t start the game, playing a semi-final of the Champions League.

“We didn’t translate the emotion or the image that we were playing in a Champions League semi-final.

“That is why we feel very, very disappointed after the first leg.”

It will be interesting to see if Pochettino is given an insight into how Spurs’ plight may go when they train in the Johan Cruyff ArenA on Tuesday night, just as he did in Colombia all those years ago where he had an experience with the famous Cristo Rey statue.

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur – UEFA Champions League – Quarter Final – Second Leg – Etihad Stadium
Pochettino has already delivered one great away day in the Champions League this season at Manchester City (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I remember the day before, the training session in the Cali stadium,” he said.

“We were practicing penalties and I remember there was a hill in behind, like a mountain behind the ground, with a Christ on top.

“It was dark. And I said, ‘Oh, if tomorrow I will shoot a penalty …’ and the game went to penalties and I put the ball there [at the Christ]! That happened.

“Unbelievable. It was in the same goal that it happened!

“But of course, before that, early on in the game, I scored the goal with a header.

“In the last minute, they equalised and then there was extra-time and then we went to penalties.

“I think we shot 26 penalties – it was the longest shoot-out in Libertadores history.”





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