Ajax have beaten Juventus 2-1 in Turin and becomes the first Champions League team to come through three qualifying rounds and reach the semi-finals.
Ajax are as good as any team in this competition. And they have not reached the semi-finals by fluke. They thoroughly deserved the wins – previously in Madrid and now in Turin. No one would have predicted Ajax to make it to the last four of the Champions League at the start of the season. But they have been the story of incredible comebacks. Ajax have quality in every department and they totally outclassed Real Madrid and Juventus with their brand of Total Football.
The 1st leg semi-final score was 1-1 in Amsterdam. In the 2nd leg the Bianconeri appeared on course to progress to the semi-final after Ronaldo scored his 126th Champions League goal in the 28th minute. But the young Ajax team had other stories in their mind. Donny van de Beek and Matthijs de Ligt scored either side of half-time to overturn Cristiano Ronaldo’s opening header. Ajax are through to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 1997.
Cristiano Ronaldo will not feature in the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 2009-10. Ronaldo’s run of eight consecutive semi-finals and three successive titles came to an end after they are beaten by Ajax in the quarter-finals. There are some things which Ronaldo can’t always do on his own. He scored a hattrick against Atletico Madrid to progress through to the quarter-finals. He also scored a goal apiece in both the legs of the semi-finals against Ajax. But as a whole, the Juventus team looks weaker. Though by any means, we aren’t taking any credit away from the young and determined Ajax side. The night belonged to the young Ajax attacking midfielder Donny van de Beek.
Van de Beek said: “Everyone is going crazy, Ajax are in the semi-final! If we’d said that at the start of the season, people would’ve laughed at us. This is a fantastic result for the whole of the Netherlands. None of us will ever forget this night. To be honest, we were the better team in the first half too. Obviously, in the second half we were the far better team.I thought we should’ve won 4-1. When we were 2-1 up, I was already thinking ahead to the semi-final, trying to make sure I didn’t get booked.”
Ajax coach Ten Hag told reporters: “I think it was an incredible night for Ajax, the players and all of Dutch football. We have again knocked out one of the Champions League favourites, as with our philosophy, we can go beyond our limitations and we’ve done it again.
You could see that Juve were a little scared of us and so were Real Madrid. It is very difficult to play against our style of football, as we have very technically-gifted players and it’s tough to press us. Even in defence, only we know how to perform that variable pressing game.
We played the first leg well, so we had confidence and also patience, which we needed to escape the Juve pressing in the first half. During the half-time break, we talked about the pressing on Emre Can, as the wingers had to push forward more, keeping Lasse Schone and Frenkie de Jong closer together. The spaces opened up and we could go to attack. Juventus had to defend at that moment, but we went 2-1 up and had many more scoring opportunities.
Our tie with Real Madrid was similar, as again we should’ve scored more goals in Amsterdam. We need to convert more of our chances and kill games off earlier. Having said that, I am very happy and proud of the team and the whole staff.”
Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri told: “Juventus always have the same objective: winning everything. Sometimes you can reach the final, sometimes you can’t. I would not say that this is our worst elimination. I think that in the last five years we have done a good job. Many players improved, we have many young players in the team, and in any case to win the league is not easy, to play two Champions League finals is not easy, to win Coppa Italia four times is not easy, to win Supercoppa Italiana twice is not easy. Otherwise, it seems that everything comes easy.”
Allegri further added: “First of all, Ajax deserved to go through because three out of four halves – the two halves in Amsterdam and the first half in Turin – were even. In the second half [in Turin] they did better because we lost cohesion and they created many chances. Then, maybe we conceded a goal that we shouldn’t have, but overall I would say that they deserved to go through to the next round.
Ajax have very good players, they play very good football. Two years ago they played the Europa League final. They are not newcomers. You don’t score five goals against Real Madrid by chance.”
Frenkie De Jong is hopeful that they can win the Champions League too. He said: “I do not know if this is the best match of our lives but it went well. In Madrid it was harder because we lost in the first leg. Juve are very strong, very disciplined, we showed in the second half the team we could be. The coach asked the same things as usual, play high and play possession.
Win the Champions League? We are in the semi-finals, we have a chance but we are not favourites. But of course, it’s always possible.”
Ajax will face Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-final. Ten Hag said: “If we play the way we did against Real Madrid and Juventus, then we ought to feel confident against them too.”
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