Most neutrals will be throwing their support behind Ajax to win the Uefa Champions League this season. A genuine sleeping giant of European football has been awakened, and in thrilling style, too. Make no mistake, Ajax have not fluked their way to the semi-finals and will go all the way to clinch their fifth European Cup and first since 1995. Here’s why:
Ajax the giant-slayers
A quick glance at the teams Ajax have beaten to get to the semi-finals – and the manner in which they won – should provide every indication of their title credentials.
Real Madrid, winners of the past three European Cups, were comfortably dealt with even after Ajax somehow managed to lose the first leg in Amsterdam. The second leg though, was the single best performance by any team in this season's Champions League as Ajax destroyed Real in Madrid. The 4-1 scoreline flattered Ajax's illustrious hosts as the Dutch club progressed 5-3 on aggregate.
Juventus, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, were next in line for the Ajax treatment. They, too, were thoroughly outplayed over two legs and were also flattered by a 3-2 aggregate score.
This Ajax team fear no side, and the irresistible brand of football that toppled Real Madrid and Juventus can also do for Tottenham Hotspur and then either Liverpool or Barcelona.
Superstars in the making
This is not a team made up of ragtag overachievers, but a youthful, energetic and talented group of players, many of whom appear destined to become superstars.
Frenkie De Jong, the 21-year-old midfielder, will complete a €75 million move to Spanish champions Barcelona in the summer, while the performances of his midfield partner, 22-year-old Donny van de Beek, have been drawing comparisons with a former Ajax graduate, Christian Eriksen.
Then there is 22-year-old Brazilian forward David Neres, the Moroccan midfielder Hakim Ziyech, and Argentine full-back Nicolas Tagliafico, both 26. Saving the youngest and most impressive for last: Ajax's 19-year-old captain Matthijs de Ligt, a centre-back on his way to becoming one of the finest on the planet.
That’s not forgetting the experienced members of the side enjoying stunning seasons, including former Southampton forward Dustan Tadic, who has scored 30 goals and assisted another 20 in all competitions so far this campaign.
This core group of talented players has ushered back memories of Ajax's last great youthful side of 1994/95 – the year they last won the European Cup before the squad was largely disbanded, which brings us on to our next point …
One and only hurrah
There is every chance this Ajax team could be broken up in the summer, such is the nature of modern football. De Jong is already off to Barcelona, while a number of Europe’s richest clubs are expected to make moves for the likes of Van de Beek, Neres, Ziyech and De Ligt.
This group of players will know that this may be their only opportunity to achieve something as monumental as winning the European Cup together, and that sort of togetherness and siege mentality can be a powerful force, particularly when channelled through such a talented team.
Ajax have played without pressure throughout the competition so far and if they continue with the same approach it could carry them past Tottenham, who have lost three of their past four games in all competitions, including a first defeat at their new stadium last time out to West Ham United.
With either Liverpool or Barcelona awaiting in the final, both sides represent a huge challenge, but Ajax's young guns have not been fazed by anyone in this season's tournament. This is the year that the Dutch club revive past glories.