UCL Match Review: AFC Ajax vs SL Benfica

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Benfica registered a stunning 3-2 aggregate win over Ajax to make the quarter-finals. Another dream run from the Dutch club ended in a shock as Benfica squeezed them tightly without giving out many chances. The group stages were one of the best runs of Ajax in the European competitions compared to the past few seasons.

Ajax couldn’t halt a 26-year winless streak at home in the knockout rounds of the European competition on Tuesday when they lost to the Portuguese club. Darwin Nunez scored late, and Benfica reached the quarter-finals for the first time in six years. Nunez found the net with a 77th-minute header off a free-kick from the right side to help Benfica make it to the last eight for the fifth time.

“We are among the eight best teams in Europe. The team worked so hard to achieve this against really difficult opponents,” said Benfica coach Nelson Verissimo.

It was all to play for at the Johan Cruyff Arena as the teams came into the deciding leg of the tie level at 2-2 on aggregate after their match at the Estadio da Luz in Portugal on February 23.

Ajax had the better opportunities in the first half. But they could not convert it to open the scoring. They dominated the game with possession and shots on target. But still, it was a disappointing first 45 minutes for the hosts.

Ajax increased the intensity in the second half to find the winning goal. But they were stunned by Benfica as they broke the deadlock in the 77th minute through the Uruguayan striker Darwin Nunez. It was the 26th goal for the young sensation, and this goal will be the most important one that he scored for the team this season.

“Obviously I’m very happy. It was a very difficult game, we knew we all had to run when it came time to defend and attack,” Nunez said after the match. “We played against a team that plays very well, we knew we were going to suffer, we suffered, we had to defend but our team gave everything.”

Credits should also go to Benfica’s defensive duo of Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi, who killed off every chance created by the hosts.

“We were not good enough in either box. We should have scored but didn’t take our chances and then we conceded an avoidable goal,” French-born Ivory Coast international Haller said.

“It was the perfect game for them. We leave with regrets but unfortunately that is football. The team who dominate do not always win. We just have to learn from our mistakes.”

The result sees Benfica into the last-8 for the fifth time in club history, join Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid, who beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the day’s other round-of-16 match, in the quarter-finals.