Ajax – Benfica: Ajax wins fun, balanced Champions League clash in dying seconds (1-0)
This was a truly entertaining, international-level game between two clubs who are not from one of Europe’s ‘Big Five’ competitions. Ajax’s young right-back Noussair Mazraoui turned out to be the unlikely hero of the night, with his deflected long shot in the 93rd minute deciding a very tight, hard-fought game in the hosts’ favor.
Make no mistake about it, this was a very important game for Ajax and Benfica. Being able to win this match would mean a very advantageous position to advance to the round of sixteen of the Champions League. Which, in a footballing era defined by a widening gap in quality and income between Europe’s absolute elite and the rest, is huge for clubs like Ajax or Benfica, who aim to take place - and hold their place - amongst the ‘best of the rest’ in the hierarchy of European club football.
Besides being in a similar place within the power structure of European football, these two clubs also have a lot in common when it comes to playing style. Ajax and Benfica are both teams who like to dominate games with well-executed play in possession, prefer technically gifted, smaller players to dynamic physical ones and are not afraid to give extremely young talents crucial roles within the team.
Ajax’ manager Erik ten Hag had every important player in his squad available, and thus had to make a couple of tough decisions. Center-back Maximilian Wöber and winger (or second striker) David Neres - who both played one of the finest games of their young careers in the 1-1 draw at Bayern . . .