Ajax lost its round of sixteen UEFA Europa League match to Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, 1-0. Roman Zozulya scored the only goal of the match in Kiev. Next week, Frank de Boer’s team will attempt to convert this deficit in a sold-out Amsterdam ArenA.
Before the game, De Boer and captain Nicolai Boilesen had difficulty in estimating what the result would be in Kiev. One thing is certain: a 1-0 loss wasn't among the most desired outcomes. If Dnipro is able to score in Amsterdam, then Ajax will need to answer with three goals.
The enormous NSK Oimpiyskyi, Kiev’s Olympic Stadium, felt quite empty on Thursday evening with only 15.000 filled seats. The reason for this is that Dnipro’s home base is actually 450 kilometers away. But due to unrest in the east of the country, European duels are being played in Ukraine’s capital.
Ajax was supported in Kiev by 200 fans who had made the trip, and who saw their team almost take the lead in the third minute. Davy Klaassen sent Thulani Serero down, and he almost surprised the keeper with a subtle curve ball.
But after Serero’s opportunity, the game stretched on for the Dutch champions without many more. Arek Milik, back after a hamstring injury, was barely ever reached. The spaces were there, but Ajax’s play was sloppy. In the eleventh minute, a ball played back badly by Joël Veltman almost resulted in Dnipro’s opening goal, but Yevheb Seleznyov shot wide.
After half an hour, the Ukrainians made good. After a good rush, Dnipro’s star player, Yevhen Konoplyanka, sent the ball to Roman Zozulya, who then defeated Cillessen. The 1-0 was on the board at halftime, although Ajax had a fantastic opportunity to tie the game during extra time. Klaassen extended a corner with a header, after which Veltman, at close range, sent the ball over a practically empty goal.
Seeing as the tide didn’t appear to be turning in the first part of the second half, De Boer made a double substitution. Daley Sinkgraven and Ricardo Kishna came in for Thulani Serero and Lasse Schöne. Ajax became more threatening, but the best opportunities still belonged to Dnipro. Fifteen minutes before the end, Richairo Zivkovic came in for Milik, but he wasn’t able to prevent the defeat.
On Thursday, March 19, Ajax needs to show what they are worth in a sold-out Amsterdam ArenA. It will be a tough assignment, but anything is possible with the support of a full stadium.