In a crazy opening match of the UEFA Europa League, Ajax defeated Panathinaikos by 1-2. In Athens, Bertrand Traoré and Jairo Riedewald scored. Hakim Ziyech received a red card, as did two Panathinaikos players.
Ajax and coach Peter Bosz only wanted one thing on Thursday evening: to make a good start in the UEFA Europa League. That needed to happen in Athens, against Panathinaikos. They were Ajax’s second Greek opponent of this young season. In the qualification rounds for the Champions League play-offs, they had eliminated PAOK, so Ajax knew how to win in Greece.
Bosz, whose aim is to work towards a steady squad, selected the same eleven Ajacieds as for Sunday’s game against Vitesse (1-0 win). So he went with Hakim Ziyech as right winger, Jairo Riedewald as midfield controller and Davinson Sánchez at centre back. Andre Onana defended the goal once again.
Early goal against
The goalie’s start was unfortunate. In the fifth minute, he boxed away an attempt from the left, but the ball went low, right into Robin Lod’s feet. He found former Eredivisie player Marcus Berg, and the ex-Groningen and PSV player scored easily, 1-0. Such an early goal against hadn’t been a part of Ajax’s plan, and the team had a hard time finding their stride. It was only midway through the first half that Bosz’s team started attacking, but without forcing any big opportunities.
Traoré’s first goal
Ajax hadn’t had any opportunities yet when the tying goal was scored. Bertrand Traoré dribbled into the enemy’s penalty area in the 34th minute. The Burkina Faso native beat goalie Steel in the near corner with a shot from his left foot, 1-1. The centre forward was extremely pleased with his first Ajax goal.
This goal gave Ajax confidence, as two minutes later, Sánchez had the chance to bring Ajax into the lead. In the prep, Traoré sent a beautiful heel-ball to Amin Younes. The German winger found Sánchez, who saw his shot stopped with a feline save by the keeper. Thus, the score remained 1-1 when referee Marinner blew his whistle to signal halftime.
In the second half, Ajax had a golden opportunity in the 66th minute to take the lead. Mitchell Dijks was hauled down in the penalty area. Klaassen took position for the shot. Where he had been so sure-footed previously, he now found Steele in his way. Riedewald had come in perfectly, and scored on the rebound, 1-2!
Panathinaikos down to 10
Two minutes after the lead, Panathinaikos was forced to continue with just ten men when Ivan Ivanov’s foul on Younes earned him a second yellow card. Moreover, Ajax received a free kick in a great spot. Gudelj’s shot went over the wall, but Steel scrambled the ball out of his goal. The home team was unable to move past their setback, which translated into several reckless fouls.
Red for Ziyech
Ajax was also forced to continue with just ten men in the last twelve minutes. Ziyech went for the ball, but, to his disappointment, saw Marinner give him his second yellow card of the evening. This brought some life back to Panathinaikos, but thanks to a good save by Onana, Ajax remained on the right side of the score.
Ajax almost managed to bring the score to 1-3, when Younes sought out the keeper’s near corner. But Steele made the save this time. With substitutes Kasper Dolberg, Daley Sinkgraven and Lasse Schöne, Ajax went on the hunt for 1-3. The team even got an extra six minutes from the referee, who sent off Mubarak Wakaso with a direct red card. Panathinaikos was forced to continue with nine men. Despite their numeric disadvantage, the Greek team almost scored again via a header from Samba. But it didn’t happen, and Ajax started this tournament with an away win. And although the play may not have been exactly as Ajax would have liked for ninety minutes, the three points are more than welcome.
In the lead
Due to the 1-1 tie between Standard Luik and Celta de Vigo, Ajax is in the lead with three points.