Ajax Amsterdam followed up their elimination of Real Madrid by producing a spell-binding display of inventive, passing football to win 2-1 away to Juventus on Tuesday and end the Serie A team’s dreams of winning the Champions League.
Ajax’s 19-year-old captain Matthijs de Ligt headed the winner from the corner in the 67th minute of the quarter-final second leg as the Dutch side came from behind to clinch a 3-2 aggregate win and reach the last four for the first time since 1996/97.
Ajax reach the Champions League semi-finals for the first time in 2??2?? years.
They beat Juventus for the first time since 1??9??7??4??.
For the first time in 9?? years Cristiano Ronaldo will not be in the semi-finals.
Take it away Peter Drury.. ??
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) 16 April 2019
Cristiano Ronaldo, aiming for a fourth successive Champions League title after winning the last three with Real Madrid, put Juventus ahead in the 28th minute with a typically emphatic header, his sixth goal of the competition.
But Donny van de Beek levelled six minutes later before the visitors swept Juventus aside in the second half with wave after wave of attacks as they earned a semi-final against Manchester City or Tottenham Hotspur.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) 16 April 2019
“Can we can go on to win the competition? Well, we are in the semi-finals now. And we have eliminated two of the favourites in the last two rounds. The next games will be very difficult, but so were these ones. So who knows?,” said De Ligt.
Frenkie de Jong added: “We dominated after the break and were well worth our victory. In fact, we probably should have won by more.”
Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana gave his team an early scare when his clearance was charged down by Emre Can but the rebound flew wide.
The kid Matthijs de Ligt’s a superstar. What a moment for him & Ajax pic.twitter.com/ZPJhEEXjoo
— ?? The Red Debate ?? (@TheRedDebate) 16 April 2019
Ajax settled well after that but, despite not playing well, Juventus went ahead when Ronaldo got away from the defenders to score the 126th Champions League goal of his career.
There was a long delay for the VAR review, the referee eventually going to the pitchside monitor with the ball back on the centre circle ready for the re-start, before the goal was confirmed.
Ajax kept their cool and took six minutes to level, helped by a somewhat lucky break.
Hakim Ziyech’s long-range shot hit a defender and fell perfectly for Van de Beek who, unmarked and onside, slotted the ball calmly past Wojciech Szczesny, and then had to wait for another long VAR check before the goal was confirmed.
Ajax took complete control in the second half and their geometric passing repeatedly opened up the Juventus defence, which sorely missed injured veteran Giorgio Chiellini.
Szczesny made one-handed save from Ziyech after Juventus were opened up again and then turned Van de Beek’s curling shot over for a corner.
Juventus were rocking but, ironically, Ajax’s winner came from an old-fashioned header as De Ligt outjumped two defenders to score.
Ajax had chances for further goals and Ronaldo’s frustration boiled over in stoppage time when he was booked for a lunging tackle from behind near the centre circle.
Ajax bring breath of fresh air to Champions League
Ajax Amsterdam coach Erik ten Hag said his team would keep “pushing boundaries” after they brought a breath of fresh air to the Champions League by reaching the semi-finals on Tuesday.
Having knocked out Real Madrid with a 4-1 win at the Bernabeu in the previous round, Ajax came from behind to beat Juventus 2-1 in Turin and complete a remarkable 3-2 aggregate win in their quarter-final.
In doing so, they became the first team to reach the Champions League semi-finals after playing through three qualifying rounds.
Ajax began their campaign in the second qualifying round on July 25 — 10 days after the World Cup final — at home to Austrian side Sturm Graz, a game which attracted more than 50,000 fans.
In all, Tuesday’s game was their 16th in the competition this season, six more than Juventus. “This team grows and grows. We know how to push boundaries every time. And with Tottenham or Manchester City there will be another challenge. We look forward to it,” said Ten Hag, whose side face one of the English pair in the next round.
“This is enjoyment. We had to survive their storm in the beginning. We had a hard time coming out of the pressure, but allowed Juventus almost nothing. In the second half we had three, four clearcut chances. I think we should have put the game to bed much faster. But I am happy and proud of my team.”
Despite the presence of the world’s top players and coaches, Europe’s flagship competition has been in danger of going stale over the last decade as it has become dominated by a handful of big-money clubs.
Remarkably, Ajax are the first team from outside England, Germany, Spain, Italy and France to reach the last four since their compatriots PSV Eindhoven 14 years ago.
Once regarded as a major power in European football, Ajax have in the last 10 years have become a feeder club, signing players at a young age, helping them mature and developing their game before selling them on.
Even so they have been able to build a young team that plays exciting, fluid football. “It’s a result that is very important for Dutch football,” said Ten Hag.
“We are on the way back, the signs are there. We have incredible talents and for our nation, it will get better and better. We were not favourites, but with our philosophy, we again exceeded our limits.”
Allegri says will be at Juventus next season
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri dismissed speculation about his future following their Champions League exit against Ajax Amsterdam on Tuesday, saying he would be at the club next season.
Allegri, who has led Juventus to four successive league and cup doubles and two Champions League finals, said he had already discussed the matter with club president Andrea Agnelli following their 2-1 defeat in the quarter-final second leg.
“I already talked with the president, I will remain at Juve next season and we are already planning the next campaign,” said Allegri, whose side will win an eighth successive Serie A title if they draw at home to Fiorentina on Saturday.
Juventus signed five-times World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo this season in their bid to add the Champions League to their domestic dominance. However, Allegri has tried to play down expectations all along.
“Ronaldo gave us a lot during the season and especially in the Champions League,” he said. “Ajax are a great team, I cannot say much to my players tonight.”
“Ajax have several good players and play good football, they are no underdogs. How they can be after scoring five goals against Real Madrid (in the previous round)? I would not say that this is our worst elimination. Juventus have always the same objective: winning everything. Sometimes you can reach the final, sometimes you can’t.”