For the second year in a row, Ajax has earned a place in the UEFA Champions League main tournament after the qualifying rounds. Ajax disposed of APOEL on Wednesday evening. After a scoreless tie in Cyprus, Ajax won by 2-0 at home thanks to goals by Edson Álvarez and Dusan Tadic.
Ajax has done it again! Exactly one year ago, they reached the main tournament at the expense of Dynamo Kiev. The only difference was that Ajax came in one qualifying round later than last year. Ajax will learn who its opponent will be on Thursday, when the draw takes place in Monaco.
Ajax played to a tough 0-0 tie last week at APOEL and, thanks to a weekend off from competition play, the team had 8 days to recover and prepare for the return. It was ideal, said Ten Hag, to be able to focus on training and to work on routines and reflexes.
Unfortunately, there was a downside. Donny van de Beek had to leave Friday’s training early with a muscle injury. It became clear soon after that he would miss the return game. Because of a red card in the first game, Noussair Mazraoui was sidelined as well, and Ten Hag was forced to make a few changes.
Squad debut Álvarez, with Dest and Huntelaar also playing
There were three changes, eventually. Sergiño Dest, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Álvarez were in the squad. The last formed the central block at midfield with Lisandro Martinez, with Hakim Ziyech in front of him. Daley Blind played at centre back.
The game unfolded as expected: APOEL put up a wall and Ajax’s difficult job was to dismantle this defense. This was hard at first, and scoring opportunities were few and far between in the first half hour.
Ajax tightens the screws
It wasn’t until the final fifteen minutes in the first half that Ajax turned on the pressure. It started with a harmless shot by Tadic, which landed in the hands of the APOEL keeper. Nothing came of it, but it was the beginning of a good phase for Ajax.
In the 35th minute, Ajax came really close to scoring for the first time. A free kick by Ziyech was picked out of the upper corner by keeper Belec. Ziyech was Ajax’s star player in the first half, and was at the root of the next two threatening plays. He made a swift pass to Tadic, but the Serb’s shot found the side net.
Amazing goal and celebration
Two minutes before time, Ajax and Ziyech were finally rewarded for their hard work. The left
footed player found Álvarez’ head with a measured pass, and the latter made good on the shot. The Mexican player scored in his squad debut: 1-0!
Ajax retreated to the locker rooms with a good feeling, and, early in the second half, they thought they had squared the game away. Klaas Jan Huntelaar scored the 2-0 goal on a header into the underside of the crossbar, and the ArenA erupted. Unfortunately, this joy was premature. After consulting with the video referee, the goal was disallowed. Joel Veltman was slightly offside, at the moment that Ziyech (again) redirected the free kick.
Later on, APOEL made its presence felt. But the visitors saw their goal get disallowed as well. It was a clear situation: the player in question was largely offside.
Tadic brings it home
As the second half continued, Ajax was in charge. The one goal margin kept things tense. Ten minutes before time, Tadic brought everything home: 2-0. The captain was sent in and took a convincing, hard shot.
The ArenA was boiling, especially considering what’s coming. Ajax is going into the group phase and will undoubtedly face more exciting opponents soon.
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