Earning ten points, and still not going through in the UEFA Champions League is not something that has happened very often, but this is exactly what happened to Ajax on Tuesday evening in group H. They only needed one point, but they didn’t manage that against Valencia. The Spanish team won, relegating Ajax to the Europa League.
An exciting match unfolded between Ajax and Valencia in the Johan Cruijff ArenA, from which former Ajacied Jasper Cillessen was absent. Ajax, leader in the exciting group H, initially seemed to have the upper hand. But not much danger came from that, with the exception of attempts by Donny van de Beek and Hakim Ziyech. Valencia appeared more nervous than Ajax, but took the lead in the 25th minute. Joel Veltman caused offside for Rodrigo, after which the Spanish Brazilian player simply put the 0-1 on the scoreboard.
Everything but smooth sailing
When Chelsea took the lead in the game against the already eliminated Lille, Ajax knew what was needed. They needed to play to a draw in order to remain active at the highest European level. But it definitely wasn’t smooth sailing with the Amsterdam team. Where magical combinations had flowed in previous Champions League games, in this last one, they only seemed to stumble.
Chance for Van de Beek
Just before the break, the tying goal seemed to come. Ziyech passed and Van de Beek extended the shot with an acrobatic move, nearly scoring. Unfortunately, Gayà made a karate-chop save on the potential 1-1 goal. No, things weren’t going well for Erik ten Hag’s team, which needed to pull our all the stops in the second half in order to remain in contention.
Faster and better Ajax
After the break, Edson Alvarez, who had a yellow card, didn’t return to the field. Sergino Dest took his spot, and Mazraoui moved to midfield. Ajax sped up the pace, seeing the urgency for at least one goal. The attacks became more fluid, the Spanish defense was outplayed more often, and in the 67th minute, the tying goal was almost scored. Ziyech was in prime position but shot wide, and later on, Noa Lang came close to scoring as well.
The home team increased the pressure, surrounded Valencia so much that they were barely able to leave their zone. And with Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Noa Lang, all Ajacieds hoped for more fire from the Amsterdam team. But the fact that things were not going as desired only caused the Amsterdam team to become more irritated. Andre Onana, among others, received a yellow card, which will mean a suspension for him.
In the last minutes, Siem de Jong came in, and he came close to the 1-1 goal directly, but the keeper made a good save. No, it wasn’t meant to be for the Ajacieds this evening; despite having earned 10 points, the were still relegated to the Europa League. Chelsea and Valencia will continue in the Champions League.