The Ajax under 19s didn’t manage to qualify for the UEFA Youth League quarter finals. In front of 4.000 spectators, the Italians were too strong in penalty kicks. In a true Europa cup type thriller, both teams had many opportunities, but even a penalty in regular playing time didn’t yield a goal: Abdelhak Nouri missed the shot.
Beforehand, expectations were high. With no points lost in the competition and finishing as the leader in a pool that included FC Barcelona and PSG, everything seemed promising. Thousands of Ajax fans braved the pouring rain to come the stadium to cheer on the young Ajax players.
The Italians dominated in the beginning. Ajax seemed nervous as the match started, and the Romans took advantage. After fifteen minutes, Roma had a great opportunity, but goalie Stan van Bladeren made a good save. After a second chance for Roma, Ajax came into the game a bit more. Robert Muric faked-out his opponent, but his shot went long.
Ajax slowly started taking initiative, and had several opportunities via Muric again, but most times the final pass missed precision. AS Roma controlled the ‘catenaccio’ carefully and was very dangerous in the counter. After the break, Ajax continued in the same vein. This resulted in opportunities for Muric, but the biggest chance was yet to come. After hands by a Roma player, the referee pointed Harkam to the spot. But unfortunately Ajax didn’t score. Nouri saw his penalty stopped by keeper Gabriele Marchegiani.
Marchegiani also salvaged a shot from Adham El Idrissi out of the goal. Opportunities came in rapid succession. Defender Shaquill Sno gave Roma another good opportunity to score the first goal. After some tinkering at midfield, the Italians stormed ahead freely towards the Ajax goal, but captain Lorenzo Pellegrini’s shot went wide.
AS Roma’s tank was running low. Ajax felt that it could still come out on top during regular time. The pressure on the Roman goal increased, but opportunities for Vaclav Cerny and substitutes Zakaria el Azzouzi and Vince Gino Dekker weren’t converted into a win. This last hit the post after Marchegiani sent a Muric shot back into the field.
In the end, after 90 scoreless minutes, it was time for penalty kicks. Muric, Damil Dankerlui, El Azzouzi, Ashraf El Mahdioui and Donny van de Beek scored the first five penalties, just like the Italians did. After AS Roma also scored their sixth, Marchegiani stopped the shot by substitute Carel Eiting, who was the youngest player on the field. Thus it wasn’t an Ajacied, but an Italian who was the evening’s hero. The evening was steeped in history as well, since it was Marchegiani’s father, Luca, who had defended Torino’s goal in the UEFA Cup finals against Ajax 23 years ago. That match ended in 0-0, but was enough for Ajax to win the European prize. It would be different this year, as AS Roma is the team going through to the quarter-finals to meet Manchester City.
Coach Frank Peereboom was disappointed, but complimentary of his team: “It’s bitter to lose like this. The first half was tense and we didn’t fare very well. After the break, we got ourselves back on track. We were dominant and played the way we like to play. We lost Italian-style today. The players had a dream to win the Youth League, which is now in shreds.”
Peereboom enjoyed the atmosphere in the Toekomst Sport Park: “It’s a huge compliment to the guys that so many people came to watch this match. They’ve earned that by playing so well recently. It’s a matter of time before these guys break through. And, despite the disappointing result, they’ve had a great experience tonight. It’s a shame that it will end here, but these seven European matches were extremely valuable for Ajax and the youth academy.”
Ajax A1 – AS Roma u/19: 0-0 (AS Roma w.n.s., 5-6)
Line-up Ajax A1: Stan van Bladeren, Shaquill Sno (71. Carel Eiting), Damon Mirani, Mauro Savastano, Damil Dankerlui, Donny van de Beek, Ashraf El Mahdioui, Abdelhak Nouri, Robert Muric, Adham El Idrissi (64. Zakaria El Azzouzi), Vaclav Cerny (81. Vince Gino Dekker)