Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Dolberg downs Lyon & a sensational Schalke comeback – Ajax´s road to the Europa League final

SoccerNews in Eredivisie 23 May 2017

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Ajax take on Manchester United in the Europa League final on Wednesday in the culmination of a gruelling campaign to win the competition.

Peter Bosz’s men finished second to Feyenoord in the Eredivisie, but now have the chance to win their first European trophy since 1995.

Ajax have already played 14 matches to reach this stage of the tournament, where they take on Jose Mourinho’s United side, who need the trophy to book a place in next season’s Champions League.

Here, we look at the Amsterdammers’ road to Stockholm.

GROUP STAGES

Ajax made an inauspicious start to their Europa League campaign, when Marcus Berg gave Panathinaikos a fifth-minute lead before Bertrand Traore and Jairo Riedewald ensured a come-from-behind 2-1 victory in a match where Hakim Ziyech was one of three players sent off.

Imperious home form has been the bedrock of their run to the final and Kasper Dolberg opened his account for the competition with the only goal against Standard Liege, while the teenage star was also on target as fellow semi-finalists Celta Vigo were downed 3-2.

There were score draws in Liege and Vigo but a 2-0 triumph in the return with Panathinaikos, thanks to Lasse Schone’s free-kick and a Kenny Tete strike, made sure of top spot in the group.

ROUND OF 32 – LEGIA WARSAW (1-0 AGG)

Ajax progressed by a solitary goal in each of the knockout rounds, starting with the Legia Warsaw tie in the last-32.

The Dutch side recorded a 0-0 away draw in the first leg despite a late red card for defender Tete.

The second leg saw Ajax edge to a 1-0 triumph and book their place in the next round, Nick Viergever striking early in the second half to send them through.

ROUND OF 16 – FC COPENHAGEN (3-2 AGG)

FC Copenhagen put Ajax under significant pressure in the last 16, winning the home first leg 2-1 thanks to a headed winner from Andreas Cornelius.

Rasmus Falk had put the hosts in front after just 27 seconds, with Dolberg equalising from what looked to be an offside position – a goal that would ultimately prove critical in the tie – before Cornelius’ winner.

Two first-half goals in the second leg saw Ajax turn the tie around in an impressive all-round performance, a Traore header and Dolberg’s penalty putting Bosz’s men 3-2 up on aggregate – a lead they held on to.

QUARTER-FINALS – SCHALKE (4-3 AGG)

Ajax’s quarter-final tie against Schalke is one that will live long in the memory.

They appeared to be in control after Davy Klaassen’s double earned them a comfortable 2-0 win in the first leg, although Schalke goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann made fine saves from Traore and Amin Younes to keep the Germans in with a chance.

A wild second leg went all the way to extra time after Leon Goretzka and Guido Burgstaller had struck for Schalke to match Ajax’s result.

Ajax were already down to 10 men after Joel Veltman’s sending off and looked dead and buried when Daniel Caligiuri’s header put Schalke 3-2 up on aggregate in the first period of extra time.

However, Viergever deflected in an effort after defender Matija Nastasic failed to clear with only nine minutes to play, before Younes wrapped up a famous victory on the counterattack.

SEMI-FINALS – LYON (5-4 AGG)

Bosz’s talented youngsters made their pitch to be considered alongside Ajax’s feted sides of the past with a vibrant first-leg display to demolish Lyon 4-1.

On-loan Chelsea forward Traore scored a goal in each half, with Dolberg and Younes also getting in on the act as Ziyech’s sublime left foot supplied three assists.

Mathieu Valbuena briefly reduced the arrears in the 66th minute but Ajax ran out comfortable winners, although a Lyon fightback complicated matters in the return.

Dolberg’s impudent finish gave Ajax the lead on the night and gave them one foot in the final but Alexandre Lacazette’s quickfire double set nerves jangling.

Rachid Ghezzal’s header brought Lyon to within a goal of extra time, with Ajax clinging on despite Viergever’s red card for a late lunge on Maciej Rybus. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

SoccerNews

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