November 30, 2022

Game

Game

Ajax are into the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 1997

Ajax’s sensational Champions League run continued as teenage captain Matthijs de Ligt’s goal eliminated Juventus and secured their place in the semi-finals.

Cristiano Ronaldo, a five-time winner of the tournament, headed the hosts in front from a first-half corner.

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But Ajax battled level as Donny van de Beek controlled Hakim Ziyech’s shot and slotted past Wojciech Szczesny.

Ziyech went close after the break before De Ligt, up from the back, scored a decisive, powerful header.

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The away-goals rule left Juventus needing two in the remaining 23 minutes, but it could have been even more comfortable for the visitors in the closing stages with David Neres shooting wide and Ziyech flagged offside after whipping a smart shot into the top corner.

Ronaldo, who picked up a late yellow card for a frustrated lunge at Joel Veltman, stalked off the pitch at the final whistle, having been knocked out of the competition for the first time since Juventus beat his previous club Real Madrid in May 2015.

Meanwhile, as they did after their sensational away win over Real Madrid in the previous round, Ajax’s youthful side bounced in front of their raucous band of supporters and home fans streamed out the exits.

Ajax will face the winner of Manchester City and Tottenham’s quarter-final, which Spurs lead 1-0 before Wednesday’s second leg at Etihad Stadium.

Back to the big time

Ajax celebrated long and loud at the final whistle

The victory marks Ajax’s return to the last four of Europe’s premier competition for the first time since a team containing Daley Blind’s father Danny, Marc Overmars, and Ronald de Boer was beaten in the 1997 semi-finals – by Juventus.

Without an automatic group-stage place for the Eredivisie, the current side started their Champions League campaign as 250-1 outsiders in July’s qualifying rounds.

However, their attacking exuberance and unwavering belief in their ability to match the continent’s best were summed up by De Light.

The 19-year-old captain was found wanting for Ronaldo’s opener, unable to track the Portuguese’s run through a packed penalty area and leaving him free for the 98th headed goal of his career.

However, after regaining his defensive composure, De Ligt completed his redemption from Ajax’s set-piece, planting a downward header past a rooted Szczesny.

This season will be this Ajax side’s only shot at regaining the trophy they last won in 1995.

Manager Erik ten Hag has admitted De Ligt will leave at the end of the season, while team-mate and fellow teenager Frenkie de Jong has already agreed on a summer move to Barcelona. Dangerous wide attacker David Neres, meanwhile, has been linked with a move to the Premier League.

More to follow.

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