Ajax eliminates Ronaldo’s Juve

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Ajax players celebrate after defeating Juventus during the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg match at the Juventus Stadium in Turin Tuesday. — AFP

Dutch boys put up scintillating display

TURIN — Ajax Amsterdam followed up its elimination of Real Madrid by producing a spell-binding display of inventive, passing football to win 2-1 away to Juventus 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 quarterfinal 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.

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 leveled six minutes later before the visitors swept Juventus aside in the second half with wave after wave of attacks as they earned a semifinal against Manchester City or Tottenham Hotspur.

“Can we can go on to win the competition? Well, we are in the semifinals now. And we have eliminated two of the favorites 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.

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 its 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 its geometric passing repeatedly opened up the Juventus defense, which sorely missed injured veteran Giorgio Chiellini.

Szczesny made one-handed save from Ziyech after Juventus was opened up again and then turned Van de Beek’s curling shot over for a corner.

Juventus was 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 center circle.

“It’s an incredible evening for Ajax and its players and also for Dutch football,” said coach Erik ten Hag.

“Once again we eliminated the favorites. We said before we were not the favorites but with our philosophy we can go further, we’ve again surpassed our limits.”

“Ajax deserved to qualify,” said Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri.

“We could have done better, but Ajax aren’t coming out of nowhere, they were Europa League finalists two years ago and scored five goals against Real.

“It’s not our worst elimination. We had big expectations, but the Champions League is a strange competition. You have to arrive in peak condition.

“In the last month we have been struggling with several injuries. Even tonight we were missing important players.” — Reuters


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