Ajax draw first blood against Spurs, D’Arcy pays tribute to foreign influences

Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

Daley Blind celebrates Ajax’s first leg win over Tottenham in London. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty

Daley Blind celebrates Ajax’s first leg win over Tottenham in London. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty

Ajax are a draw or win away from their first European Cup final since 1996, after they beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 in their semi-final first leg in London last night. The visitors - who dumped out holders Real Madrid and Juventus in the previous knockout rounds - dominated the opening half and took a well deserved lead through Donny van de Beek after 15 minutes. Mauricio Pochettino’s side - without both Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min - were more resolute after the break, but now have a mountain to climb in next week’s second leg in Amsterdam. Spurs lost defender Jan Vertonghen to a head injury in the first-half, with the Belgian allowed to return to the pitch after a clash of heads with teammate Toby Alderweireld before being helped down the tunnel. Afterwards, Pochettino defended his medical staff: “I was not involved. It was the doctor’s decision. It’s so important that the rules and the protocols are there and our medical staff followed the protocols.” Tonight sees Barcelona take on Liverpool at the Nou Camp in the second semi-final, and boss Ernesto Valverde is aware of the attacking threat posed by the visitors: “They’re very strong, extraordinary up front, they press and play with a very high rhythm and pace.”

Elsewhere in his column this morning Gordon D’Arcy stresses the importance of foreign imports to the provinces, at the start of a month where James Lowe and Scott Fardy will be vital in Leinster’s pursuit of a fifth European Cup. He writes: “When we go through the six European titles Leinster and Munster share between them and Connacht’s Pro 12 title, the foreign influence is undeniable.” And he picks out one player in particular who he believes left an indelible mark on Irish rugby: “But perhaps the biggest impact by any foreign player ever on Irish rugby belongs to Rocky Elsom. Not the most valuable, that’s Isa, or sustained, Isa again, but impact-wise what Rocky did in 2008/09 stands the test of 10 years. Rocky was special. The best blindside in the world came to do a specific job.”

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