The fairytale ride of Dutch club Ajax in the 2021-2022 UEFA Champions League campaign ended in a very stunning manner. Benfica, a Portuguese side that made it to the round of 16 by chance, knocked out the in-form Ajax side from the competition on Tuesday, March 15, 2022.
When the European governing body, UEFA, announced that Benfica will face Ajax in the two-legged round of 16 stage of the competition, most football enthusiasts thought it would be a walk in the park for Ajax due to their smooth run in the competition.
Recall that Ajax was one of the three teams in the competition that did not lose a game during the group stage. The Dutch club won all their six group stage games including home and away victory over FC Barcelona.
Only Bayern Munich and Liverpool were as good as Ajax in the group stage in terms of winning all their group stage games. Hence, the club’s fans expected that Ajax should go as far as the final of the UEFA Champions League and probably win the title.
Meeting Benfica in the round of 16 stage first looked like a blessing for the Dutch team because of the caliber of clubs Ajax have already beaten this season.
Unfortunately for coach Erik ten Hag’s side, Benfica picked up an incredible domestic form a few weeks before the first leg of the round.
However, in the first leg in Lisbon, Portugal, Ajax took the lead twice but the hosts were able to get back into the game twice too. At the end of the finely posed game, Ajax ran away with a 2-2 draw.
On Tuesday when Benfica visited Amsterdam for the second leg of the tie, the Dutch side were expected to complete the job as smoothly as possible but that was not to be. The game dragged until the 77th minute before Darwin Nunez headed home from Alex Grimaldo’s free-kick to give the visitors the lead.
After the match opener, the hosts tried all they could to break the defense of the visitors but could not do much. Hence, Benfica ran away with a 1-0 win. The victory helped the Portuguese side to knock out the Dutch side 3-2 on aggregate.
In the game which saw Ajax record 69 percent of the ball possession, the hosts were able to record 16 shots, two of which were on target. While Benfica managed to record four shots, one of which was on target.
Ajax’s talisman, Sebastien Haller who has the record of being the first player to score in his opening seven Champions League games and the quickest to reach 11 goals in the competition’s history, could not do much to keep the Dutch side in the tournament. He however scored a goal that was disallowed for offside.
11 goals in just 7 games. Sébastien Haller's unforgettable debut season ⚽️@AFCAjax | #UCL pic.twitter.com/uVaIU8wmFJ— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) February 25, 2022
Now that Ajax are out of the Champions League, they might lose their coach Erik Ten Hag to Manchester United
Erik Ten Hag has been able to transform Ajax since he was made the coach of the club in 2017. The 52-year-old Dutch coach has won two Eredivisie, two KNVB Cup, and one Johan Cruyff Shield since he became the coach of the Dutch side.
Under his watch this season, Ajax are currently topping the Eredivisie table with 63 points in 26 games, two points above second-placed PSV.
Due to his performance at the Dutch club, he is seen as one of the coaches that might replace Manchester United interim coach Ralf Rangnick at the end of the 2021-2022 season.
Based on this speculation, there was a report that surfaced recently that Erik Ten Hag was taking English lessons in anticipation of the Manchester United job.
However, before the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 clash with Benfica, Erik Ten Hag debunked the report that he was taking English lessons.
“No, that (report) is not true! We (already) talk English at the club because there are a lot of foreign players in Holland and they are already educated in English so (it makes sense)”, the Dutch coach said.
As it stands, Ten Hag and the coach of Paris Saint Germain, Mauricio Pochettino are seen as the top contenders for the Manchester United job. Manchester United are expected to decide who the club’s new coach would be before the end of the 2021-2022 season.
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