Sébastien Haller scored at both ends as a barnstorming UEFA Champions League round of 16 encounter ended all square between Ajax and Benfica in Lisbon.
18′ Composed Tadić makes it 1-0
26′ Haller turns cross into own net
29′ Haller restores Ajax’s advantage
45′ Álvarez shot cannons off post
72′ Sub Yaremchuk nods in rebound
Match in brief: Benfica battle back
Ajax won six out of six in the group stage and picked up where they left off here, Antony’s outrageous nutmeg in the opening 60 seconds setting the tone. They were ahead on 18 minutes, Dušan Tadić applying the cool final touch to punish Benfica for some lax play at the back.
Jan Vertonghen soon made amends for the collective, fizzing in a cross following a corner that struck Haller’s foot and rolled into the net. The towering striker was far more assured at the other end three minutes later, tucking in his 11th of the competition in this, his first season.
Haller almost made it 12 on half-time but couldn’t quite adjust when Edson Álvarez’s effort cannoned off the post into his path. Benfica were rocking but after the break Rafa Silva and Darwin Núñez got them rolling. The pressure cranked up until Gonçalo Ramos’s shot was parried and substitute Roman Yaremchuk won the race to nod it in.
PlayStation® Player of the Match: Noussair Mazraoui (Ajax)
“He performed very well offensively on his flank, providing a lot of attacking options while maintaining defensive efficiency.”
UEFA Technical Observer panel
Carlos Machado, Benfica reporter
The hosts always knew this would be a big mountain to climb and so it proved. Ajax were predictably threatening, sticking to their script, but for a long time Benfica seemed to be struggling to follow their own game plan. Did nerves get the better of them? Individual mistakes led to Ajax’s goals but the hosts were much better in the second half, with Rafa Silva and Darwin Núñez to the fore. They made Ajax uncomfortable, fashioning space for their front runners to cause trouble.
Derek Brookman, Ajax reporter
With the away goals rule no more, 2-2 in Lisbon isn’t as good a result as it would have been last season, but Ajax can still be relatively satisfied with their efforts this evening. They outclassed the hosts in the first half and could have gone in more than one goal ahead. But Nélson Verissimo’s men gave a good account of themselves after the break, although the Eredivisie leaders didn’t give away too many clear-cut chances. Definitely all to play for in Amsterdam on 15 March.
Dušan Tadić, Ajax captain: “I’m not happy. In the second half we should have created more with our qualities. Benfica are always difficult to play against, especially in this stadium. We will have a full stadium in Amsterdam, though, and we know we can win.”
Jan Vertonghen, Benfica defender: “We had the better chances in the second half. In the end, the game could have gone either way. Ajax were very good in possession and we were very good at playing into the space that was created as a result. All in all, this is an acceptable result to take to Amsterdam.”
“It was a fair result in a good game and, contrary to what many people feared, Ajax didn’t come to Lisbon and crush Benfica.”
• Benfica have lost only one of their last 16 European matches against Dutch clubs (W8 D7).
• Ajax have scored 22 goals in the Champions League this season, matching their previous highest totals recorded in 1995/96 and 2018/19.
• Haller is the first player to register in each of his first seven Champions League appearances. The previous mark was five, shared by Erling Haaland, Alessandro Del Piero and Diego Costa.
• Danny Blind made his 43rd Champions League appearance for Ajax, surpassing Jari Litmanen’s club record.
Benfica: Vlachodimos; Gilberto (Diogo Gonçalves 90), Otamendi, Vertonghen, Grimaldo; Rafa Silva, Weigl, Taarabt (Paulo Bernardo 85), Everton (Yaremchuk 62); Darwin Nuñez (Lázaro 90), Gonçalo Ramos
Ajax: Pasveer; Mazraoui (Rensch 90+2), Timber, Martínez, Blind (Tagliafico 73); Edson Álvarez, Berghuis, Gravenberch (Klaassen 73); Antony, Haller, Tadić
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