French hot-shots Nice and Dutch powerhouse Ajax put in quite a show at the Allianz Riviera on Wednesday night.
The hosts took the lead after catching the Dutchman off guard through an easy tap-ip by Mario Balotelli, whereas the visitors failed to convert their on-pitch dominance into a tangible result and have been forced to settle for a 1-1 draw after van de Beek’s early second-half equalizer.
Our full match report follows:
Team News & Form Guide
Two of Europe’s oldest football club went head to head in what remains one of the most exciting Champions League third-round qualifiers.
French side Nice headed into the match on the back of four wins and one defeat in their five preseason matches which proved that Les Aiglons are prepared to extend a fine form that has been following them throughout the last season. Having successfully kept hold of their key players one of which is former Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli, Nice have added a couple of quality signings in the likes of Chistophe Jallet, Adrien Tameze and Jean-Victor Makengo.
Dutch giants Ajax have enjoyed a relatively successful campaign last season all the way to its very end when they ended up narrowly missing out on a domestic trophy and on European glory. Ajax suffered a 2-0 defeat in the Europa League final at the hands of Manchester United, thus missing a chance to earn a place back in the Champions League. De Godenzonen have been forced to take a longer route to Europe’s elite competition but the path is far from being an easy one. Dutch heavyweights have lost a couple of prominent players this summer with Davy Klassen, Jairo Riedewald and Kenny Tete already out of the club, whereas huge pressure is expected for Kasper Dolberg in the first place, who is said to be a target for Real Madrid.
The first period of the match ended up being an eventful half with plenty of chances and an eye-catching performance from both sides. The first 45 minutes, however, ended on a completely different note to the one this match had started.
Ajax headed into the match with strong determination and eagerness to press forward straight from the off whereas the Aiglons struggled to put their foot in the game. The home fans have recognized a moment and gave their players a huge nudge to spark them on towards the 20th minute of the game.
Nice striker Mario Balotelli was the first one to test his luck after a nice set-up from Scarfi, but Balotelli’s effort ended up going over the top. The same player was involved in a couple of notable moments in the first half, one of which includes an overly aggressive start on an Ajax player which got him booked around the half-hour mark.
Balotelli’s response to a yellow card was somewhat unexpected, admittedly, as the Italian latched on an assist from in-demand jean Michael Seri for an easy tap-in into an empty net.
All Ajax did during the first period of the match was Lasse Schone’s powerful long-range effort, which forced Nice goalkeeper Yoan Cardinale to put a great save.
The French side headed down the tunnel for a half-time break with a well-deserved lead in their bag.
It appeared Nice first-half goal was the timely wake-up call for Ajax who have emerged back from the tunnel a completely different side.
The Dutch giants went on pressuring the hosts straight from the second-half whistle, taking plenty of ball possession and making great movement in the final third of the pitch which resulted in an equalizer less than five minutes after the restart.
Yoan Cardinale punched the ball to clear a goal threat in the box, but the ball landed to van de Beek who wasted no time into driving a volley back to Nice’s goal and into an empty net.
It was the spark Dutchmen needed as Ajax started weaving their way towards Cardinale’s goal with some nice footwork and precise passing. The hosts struggled to get their feet on the ball, whereas the visiting side attempted to go upfront through Nick Viergever, Lasse Schone and Davinson Sanchez who ended up having one of the best chances for Ajax in the second half.
Sanchez connected to a cross near the penalty spot and produced a thumping header which struck the crossbar much to disappointed of the traveling fans.
It was a one-team’s game until the end from that moment on and Ajax came close to overturning the deficit entirely with four minutes on the clock when late sub Frenkie de Jong fired a drilling effort toward the right side of the goal, but in-form Cardinale once again pulled off a remarkable save to keep his team in the game.
In the end, it’s a share of spoils between Nice and Ajax in what has been a action-packed match and a great introduction ahead of the reverse match in Amsterdam.
- Ajax had 58% possession to Nice’s 42%
- The visitors made 13 goal attempts to hosts’ 9
- Seven of Ajax’s shots went on target, Nice made 3
- Mario Balotelli scored 7 goals in last 9 games for Nice
- The 1-1 draw is Ajax’s first stalemate in last 9 matches
NICE: Cardinale 7 – Souquet 6.5, Dante 6, Le Marchand 6.5, Sarr 7 – Eysseric 6.5, Koziello 6.5, Seri 7.5, Lees Melou 6.5 (Henrique -) – Srarfi 7.5 (Marcel 6), Balotelli 7.5 (Plea 6.5)
Unused subs: Benitez, Jallet, Tameze, Walter
AJAX: Onana 6.5 – Veltman 7, Sanchez 7, De Ligt 6.5, Viergever 7 – van de Beek 7.5, Schone 7 (de Jong 6), Ziyech 6.5 – Kluivert 6.5 (Campos 6.5), Dolberg 6, Younes 6.5
Unused subs: Dankerlui, Eiting, Huntelaar, van Leer, Zeefuik
REFEREE: Carlos Del Cerro
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