Ajax Amsterdam of the Netherlands picked up from where they left it at the Santiago Bernabeu by defeating Juventus 2-1 at the Allianz Stadium, Turin in the night and 3-2 on aggregate. The manager Erik Ten Hag tutored side showed that their 4-1 win at Madrid, as well as their away form in the competition this season, were not a fluke.
Juventus, on the other hand, had already lost at home in this current competition, losing 1-2 to Manchester United in a Group H match, and were banking on the kind of home performance that saw them overturned a 2 nil deficit against Athletico Madrid in the round of 16. They rested the majority of their 1st team players at the weekend in the league match defeat at SPAL, in preparation for this 2nd leg match against Ajax.
The match started slowly, a very cagey affair with no clear cut chances, both teams cancelling each other out, especially in the midfield. However, a couple of minutes before the half-hour mark, Cristiano Ronaldo popped up with the opening goal, the striker sneaked away from his marker to nod in a Miralem Pjanic’s corner for Juventus opener. But just like in the 1st leg tie, Ajax did not lie down without a fight, they got their equalizer just 6 minutes later, Donny Van De Beek cooly slotted past Wojciech Szczesny in goal for Juventus after controlling an ambitious shot from a teammate, Hakim Ziyech. 1 all the scoreline going into the break.
It was all Ajax in the 2nd half as the young lads asked most of the questions from Juventus, and with so many chances created by Ajax, it was only a matter of time before they found the breakthrough. The sought-after young defender, Matthijs De Ligt rose highest to power home Lasse Schoene’s corner kick. Juventus, needing 2 goals to turn things around, but could not find the motivation needed, as they were run ragged by ever running and untiring Ajax young lads.
The 2-1 defeat of Juventus meant Cristiano Ronaldo will not be gracing the UEFA Champions League final for the 4th year in a row, having won it 3 straight years with Real Madrid. Also, Ajax will be playing in the UEFA Champions League Semifinal for the 1st time since 1997, when they were beaten by Juventus in the semifinals, either Spurs or Manchester City wait in the wings.
Barcelona breezed past Manchester United 3-0 to advance into the semifinal for the 1st time since 4 seasons ago, the Catalan joined Ajax as the 1st-2 clubs to reach the semifinals, with the 2 other slots to be completed on Wednesday night.
Barcelona manager, Ernesto Valverde rested most of his starting lineup, only goalkeeper, Ter Stegen started in the league fixture at the weekend in the Spanish La Liga with United’s tie at the back of the manager’s mind. Manchester United, on the other hand, did not have the luxury of resting his players as the race for EPL top 4 still widely open. United’s manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also have the trio of Alexi Sanchez, Nemanja Matic and Matteo Darmain back in the squad, a timely boost for United, though young lad, McTominay has done extraordinarily well in Matic absence. Nevertheless, United needed more than Alexi, Matic and Darmain to stop Leo Messi-led Barcelona.
Trailing 1 nil from the 1st leg, and drawing inspiration from their remarkable win at PSG, United started with intent right from the blast of the whistle, with the 1st-3 chances of the game falling to United, Rashford hitting the crossbar inside 40 seconds of the game. The forward soon fired another weak shot which was easily dealt with by Barca goalkeeper, Ter Stegen. However, Barcelona was awarded a spot-kick in the 12th minute when Rakitic was adjudged to be brought down, but the decision was overturned after VAR review. 4 minutes after the spot-kick incidence, Barca opens their goal account on the night through their mercurial man, Leo Messi. Ashley Young was rubbed off the ball by Messi and the diminutive forward went past United defenders to curl a left-footer into the bottom corner. A few minutes later, on the 20th minutes, it was 2 nil through the same man, Messi, though United goalkeeper, De Gea could have fared better with the safe, he let the ball slipped right through under his arm, the game was all over by halftime.
The 2nd half started and it was all Barcelona, United huffed and puffed but to no avail, as they rarely trouble Ter Stegen. Former EPL and Liverpool ace, Philippe Coutinho finished off any hope of a comeback with a trademark outside the box curler in the 61st minute, 3 nil to Barca. The introduction of Alexi Sanchez could only draw a 90-minute smart save from Stegen.
Barcelona won 4 nil on aggregate, and have qualified for the semifinal for the 1st time since 2014-15, they now await either Liverpool or FC Porto. Messi’s personal vendetta against English clubs continues, as he now has 24 goals against English clubs in the UEFA Champions League.
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