(Champions League) Ajax give themselves a fighting chance

Sports | 11 Apr 2019 10:56 am

After showing no fear against Real Madrid, a young Ajax squad did not back down against Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus either. 
Ajax replied quickly after Ronaldo scored on the stroke of halftime yesterday, with David Neres equalizing 30 seconds after the break to secure a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal. 
"I think we've done pretty well. We have a team with a lot of potential and that tends to emerge to its fullest in Champions League matches,'' said Matthijs de Ligt, Ajax's 19-year-old captain and center back. "We proved today that Ajax is not in the Champions League quarterfinals because it's a fluke.'' 
Showing increasing confidence, Ajax produced more chances early on but then let Ronaldo waltz through to head in a cross in the 45th minute. Ronaldo was returning from a two-week injury layoff. 
In the opening minute of the second half, David Neres capitalized on an error from Juventus winger Jose Cancelo _ who provided the cross for Ronaldo's goal _ and curled a shot into the far top corner. 
Juventus nearly won it when Douglas Costa hit the post in the 85th. 
The second leg is scheduled for next Tuesday in Turin, with the winner to face Manchester City or Tottenham in the semifinals. 
In the previous round, Ronaldo almost single-handedly overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit to Atletico by scoring a hat trick in a 3-0 win. 
The match was marred by fan clashes ahead of the game. 
Police in Amsterdam said they fired a water cannon at football fans "to put out flares and prevent unsafe situations.'' 
Local broadcaster AT5 showed images of scores of chanting fans being hosed by the water cannon and responding by tossing fireworks and flares at police before mounted officers charged at them followed by riot police. 
Earlier, police in the Dutch capital said they had detained dozens of Italians suspected of possessing flares, a knife, pepper spray and fireworks. 
It was a rematch of the 1996 final won by Juventus in a penalty shootout. 
Ajax threatened through Hakim Ziyech early on and Szczesny had to produce a leaping one-handed save to deny the Morocco international. 
Juventus struggled to get past De Ligt until Ronaldo took matters into his own hands, setting up Cancelo on the right wing then sprinting past several defenders to head in Cancelo's cross. Goalkeeper Andre Onana could only get a weak hand on the ball. 
It was Ronaldo's 125th career goal in the Champions League. Only Lionel Messi (108 goals) is within 50 of Ronaldo's record, with Raul Gonzalez (71) third on the list. 
Neres, a 22-year-old Brazilian, leveled 30 seconds into the second half with a shot that Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny had no chance on. 
Both teams threatened near the end. Szczesny swatted away a blast from Jurgen Ekkelenkamp before Costa hit the woodwork at the other end with a long, angled shot and Onana palmed away another dangerous effort from Cancelo. 
Allegri opted not to bring on Moise Kean, a 19-year-old Italy striker who had scored seven goals in his last eight games for club and country.-AP


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