Ajax pleased its fans immensely in a heart-racing manner. At Olympique Lyon, yet another nerve-wracking Europa League away game was played. But after a nail-biting second half, there was plenty reason to cheer. With sheer grit and determination, Ajax has reached the Europa League final! An incredible achievement.
Whoever thought that they had seen it all after the thrilling finale at Schalke 04 was mistaken. After a sublime game at home, Ajax was forced to pull out all of the stops and faced the threat of overtime. But with just ten men – Nick Viergever received a red card five minutes before time – Ajax was able to prevent a fourth goal against them. Lyon won by 3-1, and that wasn’t enough for them to top Ajax’s 4-1 win in Amsterdam.
A joyful Amsterdam celebration broke out in the away stands, just as it had in Gelsenkirchen. The home crowd’s hands were in the air to support Lyon’s great performance, but it paled in comparison to the euphoria on the Amsterdam side. After 21 years, Ajax is back in a European final, and they’re shouting it from the rooftops.
Peter Bosz has changed around his squad compared to the victory against Go Ahead Eagles (4-0). But that doesn’t really say much, considering that he had given four regulars the day off to rest for that game. The squad for the first match against Lyon was the true comparison. And based on that game, only Joël Veltman and Viergever were the only ‘newcomers’. The duo had been sitting out suspensions last week.
Lively Parc Olympique Lyonnais
Ajax had convincingly won the first match in the Amsterdam ArenA by 4-1, so it was up to the French team to come up with an answer. Olympique Lyon was determined to do this. No effort was spared to create a lively experience. Several nice activities were set up, and the very enthusiastic announcer tried to rile up the crowd whenever possible.
The first ten minutes were by the book according to the home crowd and most others' expectations. An aggressive start for Lyon, and a somewhat tentative one for Ajax. These turned out to just be growing pains, because once the difficult first phase – without big opportunities for Lyon – had passed, Ajax sorted itself out. The rest of the first half was simply impressive.
Ajax dangerous on the left
Kasper Dolberg had the first opportunity, after good prep work by Klaassen. The Dane failed to pull the trigger, but this first threat gave Ajax confidence – especially when several more opportunities followed in the next few minutes. A lob by Younes landed on the goal’s roof, while Ziyech stormed up on the left side but, instead of making a wide pass, went for the goal himself, without success.
The Ajax lead that came in the 27th minutes was well-earned. As with almost all of Ajax’s dangerous plays, this one came from the left. Younes set up a 1-1 with Dolberg. The Dane outplayed keeper Anthony Lopes from a tough angle with a chip: 0-1.
This goal was a blow to Lyon. The crowd fell quiet and, to the displeasure of the French, Ajax continued to take charge. Considering the relative balance of power on the field at that moment, nobody could have anticipated that Lyon would head into halftime in the lead, but that’s exactly what happened.
Tide turns unexpectedly
One minute before halftime, Lyon got a penatly kick after a Matthijs de Ligt foul on Lacazette. The star of Lyon, who was back for this game, took the kick and sent Andre Onana into the wrong corner. One minute later, on a strong pass from the right, Lacazette scored the 2-1 goal, and the surprise was complete.
No house of cards this time
The second half started off identically to the first, except for the fact that this time, Lyon didn’t fold like a house of cards after ten minutes. The home team was threatening several times in front of Onana’s goal, but to the relief of everyone with an Ajax heart, the 3-1 goal didn’t come. Considering Lyon’s many good chances, this was a small miracle, although Ajax also had many opportunities to score. Donny van de Beek shot onto the crossbar and Kasper Dolberg’s header went over.
The 3-1 goal came nine minutes before time, via Ghezzai, and was the catalyst for a French offensive and one-way traffic towards Onana. When Viergever earned his second yellow card and had to leave the field, the task became even more challenging. But despite steady pressure from the French team, Ajax held its own. And then, it was final: Ajax is going to Stockholm and will play against Manchester United in the finals.
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