Ajax shock Schalke on way to Semis

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THURSDAY 20th APRIL 2017

UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE – QUARTER-FINALS – SECOND LEG

SCHALKE 3-2 AJAX

(Ajax win 4-3 on aggregate)

 

Despite being a man down following the second half dismissal of Joel Veltman, goals from Nick Viergever and Amin Younes deep into extra time secured Ajax’s place in the semi-final of a continental competition for the first time in twenty years and also kept Peter Bosz’s side on course for a remarkable double after the Dutch giants overcame hosts, Schalke 4-3 on aggregate – despite losing 3-2 on the night in Gelsenkirchen in the 2nd leg of their UEFA Europa League quarter final tie.

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However, Bosz’s men left it late to seal their place in the final four of the competition as, despite dominating the first leg in Amsterdam, the four-time European champion’s failure to convert more than just a brace of goals from inspirational skipper, Davy Klaassen in the two side’s first encounter would come back to haunt them as, having levelled the tie on aggregate, the home side hit their undermanned visitors with, what appeared to be, a knockout blow six minutes into extra time to put themselves into the driving seat and seemingly cruising towards a semi-final berth until Bosz’s men leapt off the canvas to deliver a one-two punch of their own that left Schalke out for the count.

Having dominated the initial meeting between the sides a week earlier in Amsterdam, the visitors were immediately placed under immense pressure by their German hosts who, despite their lowly league position, could boast an unbeaten home record in the competition ahead of this encounter – Leon Goretzka going close inside a minute before 21-year-old, Max Meyer hit the outside of Andre Onana’s left hand upright with the visitor’s rear guard at sixes and sevens after a simple square ball from Guido Burgstaller had the German international in acres of space on the left.

Despite the home side’s early onslaught, the visitors back line held firm and Ajax – who had lost just five of their 49 matches in all competitions prior to this encounter, went close through the unlikely figure of Nick Viergever, whose acrobatic bicycle kick was gathered at the second attempt by Schalke’s star performer of the first leg – Ralf Fahrmann, after the visitor’s left back was found unmarked at the back post by a Hakim Ziyech corner from the left in the 24th minute.

Having weathered the home side’s early attacking storm, the visitors – who had lost just once since the turn of the year in all competitions ahead of making the trip to Germany, had the ball in the back of Fahrmann’s net just after the half hour mark. However, Romanian referee, Ovidiu Hategan adjudged that Amin Younes had been in an offside position when the former Borussia Monchengladbach man had been found by an incisive through ball from Chelsea loanee, Bertrand Traore in the 32nd minute.

With no goals at the break, the home side – who, in sharp contrast to the fine form of their guests, came into the 2nd leg of this tie having lost three of their last four in all competitions, appeared to be heading out as Bosz’s side emerged from the interval with a spring in their step – the returning Lasse Schone seeing  Fahrmann push his goal-bound free kick from just outside the area around the Schalke ‘keeper’s right hand upright two minutes after the restart before the 28-year-old was down smartly to deny a Traore daisy cutter from the edge of the area in the 50th minute.

Yet, despite their sluggish start to the second half, it was the hosts who would eventually break the deadlock on the night and claw their way back into the tie – Burgstaller slipping in German international, Goretzka whose low drive from just inside the area beat Onana – despite the 21-year-old getting a hand to the ball, as it rocketed into the back of the Cameroonian’s net in the 53rd minute.

Following the breakthrough there came a noticeable shift in momentum in favour of the home side who doubled their advantage on the night just three minutes later to level the tie on aggregate through Burgstaller – the Austrian forward rifling home a Sead Kolasinac cross from the left from just outside the box to notch his ninth in Schalke colours following his mid-season switch from second tier, Nurnberg.

With the chance of making the final four of a European competition for the first time in two decades seemingly slipping through their fingers, Bosz’s men rallied and went close to restoring their overall advantage in the tie shortly before the hour mark as Ziyech saw his effort from just outside the area palmed to safety by Fahrmann.

However, it was the hosts who were now in firm control of the tie and, shortly after the hour mark, Markus Weinzierl’s men were unlucky not to find a third when a Meyer free kick from the right was headed just wide of Onana’s right hand upright by Benedikt Howedes and, when Joel Veltman was given his marching orders by the Romanian official after picking up a second yellow card for blocking the run of Algerian international, Nabil Bentaleb mid-way inside the visitor’s half ten minutes from time, it appeared only a matter of time before the hosts delivered the knock-out blow to their seemingly punch-drunk guests.

Yet, despite the best efforts of German international, Howedes – who saw his sliding effort gathered at the second attempt by Onana with substitute, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar sniffing for scraps in the fourth minute of added time, with the scores level on aggregate, the tie was sent into extra time.

By this point the away side – for whom this was their sixteenth European outing of what has been a long and winding journey in continental competition that began in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League all the way back on 26th July, were looking weary and it came as little surprise when the hosts delivered, what appeared to be, the killing blow after Kolasinac hit the by-line and dinked the ball to the far post for Daniel Caligiuri who, having out-jumped both Matthijs de Ligt and Viergever, headed the ball past Onana six minutes into extra time.

But, just when it looked as through the Amsterdammer’s European odyssey was at an end – having scored a remarkable 106 goals in all competitions this season, Bosz’s men dug deep to find number 107 through the unlikely figure of Viergever, who, having been denied from range just seconds earlier, diverted home Serbian international, Matija Nastasic’s attempted intervention from the edge of the box – following a Kenny Tete cross from the right that set alarm bells ringing in the Schalke defence, to not only bring Ajax back from the dead but put the four-time European champions ahead in the tie overall by virtue of the away goals rule.

Having seen their advantage turn to dust, the hosts could only watch in horror as the away side – buoyed by Viergever’s strike, threatened to find a second as first, Ziyech was denied by Fahrmann – the Moroccan  having skipped unhindered through the Schalke rear guard, before Viergever squandered another chance after having been sent clear five minutes from time.

In the end, with the hosts chasing in vain for a fourth, it was Ajax who ensured they would emerge victorious in the tie overall by finding their second of the evening in the last minute of extra time through Younes, who – having being slipped in by an incisive pass from Ziyech, evaded the attentions of both Nastasic and substitute, Johannes Geis before drilling the ball past Fahrmann to secure one of the continent’s most decorated clubs a place in the final four of a European competition – one which they won in its previous guise in 1992, for the first time since 1997.

Peter Bosz’s side will now face Lyon – with the 1st leg to come on the 4th May at the Amsterdam ArenA, after the French side overcame Besiktas 7-6 on penalties – their quarter final tie having ended 3-3 on aggregate after Bruno Genesio’s side had slipped to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the reigning Turkish champions in the 2nd leg at the Vodafone Arena in Istanbul, for a place in the final of the competition which will be held in Sweden on 24th May at the Friends Arena in Solna.

Man of the Match: Nick Viergever.

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