A splendid header by Darwin Núñez in the second half gave Benfica the pass to the quarter-finals of the Champions League against an Ajax team that dominated the match, but that he lacked gunpowder in the final meters (0-1). The Dutch team, favorites to go through the tie, circled the Odisseas Vlachodimos area from the left, from the right, from above and based on long shots. However, the defensive scheme proposed by Nélson Verissimo had an effect.
A symptom of Ajax’s lack of success in the final meters was the role of Sébastien Haller. The Franco-Ivorian, top scorer in the group stage, was missing and was unable to finish off the goal. Núñez’s goal in minute 72, partly thanks to a poor start by goalkeeper André Onana, definitively knocked Ajax down.
The tables in the first leg (2-2), and the elimination of the double value of the goals scored away from home in the event of a draw, They turned the duel in Amsterdam into a single-leg tie. After a couple of timid attempts at the start of the match, Verissimo’s men applied a strategy of Numantine resistance.
The offside trap
Benfica’s defense was fine, especially when advancing the line to put the local strikers offside. The linesman just annulled a goal by Haller in the 7th minute due to an offside position by Tadic. Ajax’s greatest danger came from the hand of the Serb’s internees on the left. The other two sources of opportunities for the locals came with aerial balls and long shots.
When the shots on goal came, the goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos saved or cleared the ball with success. At the stroke of halftime, an aerial duel between the Ajax goalkeeper Onana and Nicolás Otamendi ended with the Argentine on the ground. And being treated by the medical services, although he was able to continue playing.
The Benfica coach, aware of the damage that Tadic was doing on the left, brought in Soualiho Meite instead of Adel Taarabt. The change took effect, because since then the Serbian he couldn’t get to the baseline that easily. The script of the first part was repeated in the first ten minutes of the second, with Ajax causing fear.
The goal, from a set piece
The goal came in minute 77, thanks to a free kick from the edge of the box by Grimaldo. Darwin Nuñez rose above the sky of Amsterdam, won the aerial duel against central defender Timber and goalkeeper Onana, who came out falsely, and put the ball into the back of the net. They jumped for joy the 5,000 Portuguese spectators who attended the Johan Cruyff Arena.
The Uruguayan was substituted a few minutes later due to muscular discomfort, while Ten Hag made a double change to add firepower to the attack, introducing Davy Klaassen and Brian Brobbey. It was useless, because Ajax’s final attacks revealed that the physical wear shown throughout the night took its toll. Haller, who did not have his day, squandered the possibility of a header in the 89th minute.