Ajax vs Juventus: Five things we learned as David Neres cancels out Cristiano Ronaldo's opener
The Dutch side dominated possession from the opening whistle, frequently unpicking a usually resilient Juve defence, and ultimately wasting a number of well-fashioned chances.
But then it was Cristiano Ronaldoâs time to play devil to dreams, displaying typical ruthlessness to catch Ajax on the counter-attack with just seconds to play before half-time, heading past Andre Onana to open the scoring.
But Ajax responded immediately, capitalising on Joao Canceloâs mistake just 30 seconds into the second-half, with David Neres whipping a curled finish into the far corner. Ajax continued to press for the remainder of the game, repeatedly threatening to seize a famous and deserved win, but couldnât find the decisive goal to take advantage in the tie.
Here are five things we learned from the game.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo shows clinical edge once again
By Ronaldoâs standards, it had been a quiet half. There was an inconspicuous jaunt towards the front post to meet an early corner, but he couldnât quite direct the volley. There was the deft hold-up play to nod down Blaise Matuidiâs cross into the path of Federico Bernardeschiâs path on the edge of the box, whose shot flashed inches past the post. But there hadnât been that usual spotlight-grabbing sparkle.
But then, after Ajax failed to compound their stronghold over possession in the first half, there he was, lingering on the halfway line on the stroke of time, salivating as the Dutch side hurled men forwards in attack without caution. It was Ronaldo who started the move, playing the ball out to Matuidi on the right-hand side, before tearing through the Ajaxâs off-guard defence and coiling every fibre in his neck to power a header into the far corner. A goal so typical and so clinical, and one for all their efforts Ajax showed a rare glimpse of naivety in not sensing such was coming.
2. Hakim Ziyech is a firework of a player
Juventus were none too happy that Ajaxâs ultras had decided to welcome their squad to Amsterdam by letting off fireworks outside their team hotel all night, but that wasnât the only bright spark they struggled to cope with.
Ziyech is one of those players who can be wildly inconsistent but when he is on his game he is phenomenally dangerous. Capable of scoring from virtually anywhere on the field, the Moroccan international boasts brilliant technique and a magnetism towards goal.
As much was obvious throughout the match, where he was the best player on the park, jinking between players in the box, playing conductor to fine interplay with Tadic and Neres, while always finding a way to drift to the edge of the box unmarked, poise to shoot and force Szczesny into a number of sprawling saves. The only thing missing was a goal.
3. A rare defensive blunder costs Juventus
This iconic Juventus defence has proved to more often than not be an impossible fortress to crack. They have conceded just 20 goals in 31 Serie A games and comprehensively shut out Antoine Griezmann and co. to seize a slender victory against Atletico.
But here, idling after the half-time whistle, it was a rare blunder from Joao Cancelo that allowed Ajax to score and reassert themselves in the game. A routine long-ball, so crude it could be called a hoof, miscontrolled by the right-back, allowing Neres to cut inside and curl a fantastic finish into the top corner in a game they looked to finally got a foothold on. How telling the absence of their captain, Giorgio Chiellini.
4. Ajaxâs youngsters keen to live out their final hurrah
Who knows if next week or next month will be the final Champions League game for this talented young Ajax team.
Frenkie De Jong is already going for sure and Matthijs De Ligt is expected to join him.
Ziyech, based on this performance, wonât be short of suitors while David Neres has spent all week being linked with a big-money move too.
It is a headache for Marc Overmars, who has already begun the remodelling of this squad by signing Romanian starlet Razvan Marin to start replenishing his stocks but he will need more new arrivals.
Those still wearing the Ajax shirt are entirely focused on success with the class of 2019, and the way they outplayed Juventus in the first half was a statement that they werenât going to lie down in the face of a European giant and one of the gameâs finest-ever goalscorers.
That they werenât able to convert those chances was frustrating. To go in behind at the break was heartbreaking.
Ajax never gave up, though, and the swagger with which this young team manages to play on the biggest stage is a reminder that it isnât the names that matter, but something far greater.
How they responded less than a minute into the second-half was the greatest testament to their wil and nature.
Their final Champions League match as a group may come on Tuesday in Turin or their wonderful fairytale could continue, but they wonât be bowing out of this competition wondering what could have been or wishing theyâd done things differently.
It is a special group, though one destined to live out an ending depressingly in-keeping with the financial realities of world football in 2019.
5. Unrewarded dominance leaves Juventus with the advantage
Both sides threw absolutely everything at the final minutes of this match, desperately attempting to souce an advantage to wield in Turin that would shape the tie. Douglas Costa drilled a shot against the post on another like-for-like Juventus counter-attack, Ziyech continued to create opportunity after opportunity but nothing would give.
For all Ajaxâs heroic efforts, an incredible performance that proved their victory against Real Madrid was anything but an exception, they now head to Italy with a firm disadvantage. That is the sad truth of this situation, even if they are far from ruled out. Juventus have an away goal to defend on home soil, and by God, after having time to cool and regroup from this hounding, you know they will attempt whatever it takes â as against Atletico â to do so.