Ajax didn’t succeed in finishing in first place in pool E of the Champions League. Erik ten Hag’s team played to a 3-3 draw against Bayern Munich and was thus forced to relinquish first place in the group to the German team. Both teams had already been assured of spots in the round of sixteen, but they still played as if their lives depended on it during the 97 minute long football show.
In fact, the first half of Ajax’s European adventure couldn’t be spoiled anymore. After three qualifying rounds and five pool games, the team was assured of a spot among Europe’s best sixteen teams. Ajax had grown from being an outsider to a ‘‘Sehr, sehr gute Mannschaft’, according to Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac, who had praised the Amsterdam team as a ‘very, very good team’ on Tuesday.
A win against Bayern and thus a group win would have been an enormous advantage. And it was in the cards, as the scoreboard indicated a 2-1 lead after 82 minutes. A crazy period followed at the end of the game, in which the Germans scored twice and Ajax once. The 3-3 draw means that Ajax finishes in second place of the pool, and will meet one of the other 7 pools' winners in the round of sixteen match. On Monday at 12:00, this opponent will be known.
Just as in the away game against Bayern, Erik ten Hag went with a system with Dusan Tadic as centre forward. Max Wöber began at centre back, Daley Blind moved up a line, which was at the expense of Lasse Schöne, benched for the first in this Champions League season. Hakim Ziyech returned to the starting line-up, and Donny van de Beek and Andre Onana were both fit enough to start.
Bayern Munich scored the opening goal. Ajax had one good opportunity from Donny van de Beek (not enough power), but Bayern, via Serge Gnabry, had 3 chances. The opening goal was scored by the Rekordmeister in Germany, and it didn’t come out of nowhere. Robert Lewandowski was sent in perfectly and he scored his 7th Champions League goal of the season.
Pressure switch ON
It was only after the first goal that Ajax turned the pressure on. Tadic and Blind went into the battle and this seemed to deliver a penalty in the 20th minute when Blind was hauled down with a rough push. Unfortunately, the French referee Clémen Turpin didn’t see a foul in this. Donny van de Beek sent a header towards the goal five minutes later, but Manuel Neuer was in a good position to stop it. After the 0-1, Bayern was especially dangerous in the transitions. In a counter in the 27th minute, Onana made a fantastic save when he came face to face with Lewandowski.
At the end of the first half, the pace of this very compelling game slowed down slightly. Both teams seemed somewhat spent, but this was just an illusion. In the second half, Ajax increased the pressure once again, and via a beautiful one-touch attack, the score was 1-1. After Blind, De Jong, Ziyech and Van de Beek, the ball arrived with Tadic, who scored the tying goal from nearby.
All guns blazing in the final minutes
After the 1-1 goal, both teams came out with their guns blazing. Both Ajax and Bayern literally fought toot hand nail for the win. First, Max Wöber was given a red card for a slide onto Leon Goretzka’s ankle, and fifteen minutes before time, Thomas Müller was sent off after he planted his cleat into Nico Tagliafico’s head. Later, the ball was placed on the point, after Jerome Boatend had hauled Kasper Dolberg down. Tadic then proceeded to bring Ajax into the the pool lead – virtually – by making good on the penalty.
But it remained a virtual lead, as, right before the end, Bayern also received a penalty (foul by Tagliafico), and Lewandowski didn’t fail to convert. It seemed to be all over when Kingsley Coman scored the 2-3 goal in the 90th minute. But Tagliafico’s 3-3 in the 95th minute, on a pass from substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar, brought the ArenA to its feet. After 97 minutes of pure excitement, it was over: Bayern had won the group, Ajax was in second place. Next stop: Monday’s draw.