Ten men heroically bring Ajax to Europa League semi-finals

Ten men heroically bring Ajax to Europa League semi-finals

On Thursday evening, Ajax heroically reached the UEFA Europa League semi-finals.  The Ajacieds were 3-0 down in extra time with just ten men on the field, but still, via goals by Nick Viergever and Amin Younes, reached the next round: 3-2.  After the game, a true Amsterdam celebration ensued in the Veltins ArenA.

The spectators in the sold-out Schalke stadium were led on a rollercoaster of emotions.  After regular time, the home team led ten Ajacieds by 2-0, and, when the lead increased to 3-0 at 101 minutes, the final blow seemed to have been dealt.  But Ajax rose again from the ashes and, for the first time in twenty years, reached the semi-finals of a European tournament.  The draw for the next round will take place in Nyon on Friday.

Switches in Ajax’s offense
Coach Peter Bosz made two changes compared to the home game win against Heerenveen (5-1), both on offense.  Justin Kluivert and Bertrand Traoré received a break on Sunday, but they were back in the squad in Gelsenkirchen on Thursday.  That was at the expense of David Neres and Kasper Dolberg.  The centre-forward position (Dolberg or Traoré?) had been the subject of much discussion before the game.

The Ajacieds had anticipated a hot evening and had counted on Schalke starting out on the attack.  And that’s just what happened.  Spurred on by their fanatical home crowd, Schalke 04 literally shot out of the starting blocks.  Within two minutes, the Bundesliga’s number eleven team had already dangerously appeared twice in front of Andre Onana’s goal.  In particular, the Cameroonian goalie’s save on Max Meyer’s was greeting with great relief by everyone with an Ajax heart.

The home team takes the initiative once again
Ajax was somewhat overrun in the first fifteen minutes by the energetic home team.  It was a bit like Ajax’s great dominance for ninety minutes during last week’s game.  They survived the difficult opening phase and that was a sign for Ajax to fight its way slowly into the game.  Leon Goretzka had another opportunity – the German took his shot much too soon – but the initiative belonged to the Amsterdam team.

Midway through the first half, Ajax posed its first threat.  Nick Viergever’s overhead kick deserved a better fate, but landed in the hands of Ralf Fährmann, who was outstanding for Schalke in the first game.  After thirty minutes of play, Ajax believed it had taken the lead, but Traoré’s goal was disqualified as offside.

Schalke needed to come back, and the impending halftime lit a fire under the home team.  This didn’t lead to bit opportunities, but a glimmer of the opening phase was back in the home team’s game.  However, Ajax was the most threatening, but attempts by Younes (blocked shot) and Ziyech (shot wide) were left unconverted. 

Onana back for second half
During the break, it was doubtful whether Onana would be able to continue.  The goalie had been treated on the field, stumbled to the sidelines, but was able to go on  the goalie saw his team start well in the first few minutes, and Lasse Schöne tested Fährmann’s reflexes with a free kick.

But nobody could have anticipated that the match would be turned on its head moments later.  Schalke struck twice between the 52nd and 54th minute.  First, Ajax was surprised in the counter, and Goretzka scored the opening goal via Onana’s hands.  Later, Schalke broke through on the left side and Guido Burgstaller was able to score after a smart transfer by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.  The former Ajacied had come onto the field after the 1-0 goal.

Ajax’s good starting position had suddenly evaporated.  Schalke smelled blood.  Bosz reacted by sending in Dolberg for Kluivert and, after 71 minutes, Donny van de Beek for Schöne.

Ajax fought to make it to overtime.  This task was made more difficult when Veltman, after earning his second yellow card, was sent off the field ten minutes before time.  The Ajacieds were forced to continue with just ten men.

Ajax does the impossible
In extra time, Huntelaar seemed to seal his former club’s fate, but Onana removed a rebound from his feet.  The score remained 2-0 and overtime was needed.  This meant a new round for Ajax to survive, this time in the hope of forcing penalty shots.

Initially, the necessary battle plan – defending – went well.  Schalke was dangerous at times, but, in the hundredth minute, took a 3-0 lead via Daniel Caliguri.  Ajax then went on to do the impossible, and fought back with ten men.  Viergever’s 3-1 was a sledgehammer blow for Schalke, and they seemed to lose the plot.  Ajax got opportunities to score more, and, via Amin Younes, scored 3-2.  The sensational game in Gelsenkirchen was complete.