Heroic comeback pushes Ajax into semi-final of the Europa League

After a 2-0 win against Schalke 04 in the Amsterdam ArenA last week, Ajax managed to maintain their lead in the second leg of the quarter final of the Europa League. It was far from easy however, as Schalke fought for their chances and managed to net two goals after 90 minutes. Extra time was needed to decide the winner, in which Schalke had the best papers to progress to the next round. The home team took a 3-0 lead through a Daniel Caligiuri header, but Ajax didn’t give up. Playing with ten men after a Joël Veltman red card in the 81st minute, Ajax’ left back Nick Viergever put the ball in the back of the net in the second half of extra time. Schalke pushed for the one goal they needed, but German Amin Younes gave their fellow countrymen the decisive blow: 3-2.

Ajax had a bad start to the game. After just two minutes of play, Leon Goretzka (wide) and Max Meyer (post) both had big opportunities to give the Gelsenkirchen side the lead. Though Ajax survived the first attack wave, the Amsterdam side simply couldn’t get into their game. Shots from distance from Davy Klaassen and Justin Kluivert were harmless, while Nick Viergever’s bicycle kick from a corner was an easy pray for Schalke goalie Ralf Fährmann. For a brief moment it seemed that Bertrand Traoré had scored the opening goal, but he was correctly flagged offside.

In the second half the Amsterdammers started well and managed to keep possession of the ball for longer periods of time than in the first 45 minutes. Hakim Ziyech attempted a shot from just outside of the box, but was blocked. In the following counter attack, Leon Goretzka found his teammate Guido Burgstaller, who passed it back to Goretzka and saw Onana couldn’t handle his shot: 1-0. Barely two minutes later things deteriorated for Ajax when Sead Kolasinac crossed the ball to Burgstaller, whose attempt was unstoppable for Onana: 2-0. In between goals, ex-Ajacied Klaas-Jan Huntelaar had entered the pitch. After the 2-0 however, Schalke took their feet off the gas and the game balanced out, without any clear cut chances being created.

However, that wasn’t for long. Right back Joël Veltman received his second yellow card in the 80th minute of the game for blocking Nabil Bentaleb, and was subsequently sent off. The remaining ten Ajacieden struggled, with Huntelaar close to breaking Ajax’ hearts in injury time. Benedikt Höwedes’ shot was a difficult one for Onana, but he controlled the ball just in time before Huntelaar could tap in Schalke’s third.

With ten men Ajax were in for a very tough half hour of extra time, and it didn’t take long before they were dealt another gigantic blow. After ten minutes, Daniel Caligiuri headed in Kolasinac’ second assist of the night: 3-0. Ajax’ dreams to reach a European semi-final for the first time in twenty years seemed shattered.

But in the end it was Nick Viergever who rewarded himself for the astonishing season he is having. A Kenny Tete cross, who came in for Traoré after Veltman’s sending off, somehow got close to Viergever in the Schalke box. The leftback blocked a clearance from Matija Nastasić and saw the ball ending up in the back of the net: 3-1! Shortly after, with 10 minutes left, Amin Younes put an end to all doubt. The winger received an excellent pass from Hakim Ziyech, shook off his opponents and beat the excellent goalkeeping Fährmann: 3-2. The Amsterdammers had done the impossible, coming back from behind with 10 men to eliminate Schalke 04 and advance to the Europa League semi-finals. What a game!

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Statistics: Schalke 3-2 Ajax (Agg: 3-4)