Football is about goals. Ajax dominated Benfica, we had to wait for that one goal, but it never came. Or anyway: on the other side, 0-1. Ajax is out. wow.
Bizarre. The men and women with their dung forks were mainly in the half where the ball had not been during the break. Ajax immediately grabbed Benfica by the throat and combined from foot to foot, but that did not result in a lead. Haller’s opening goal was disallowed for offside, furthermore it remained a few hot positions in front of the Portuguese goal. Benfica remained upright, albeit with difficulty.
It didn’t make the assignment any easier for Jan Vertonghen and mates that they actually had to play against twelve: the Ajax fans were so vocally present. It started before kick-off, with a warm welcome at the stadium, loudly sung schlagers and waving flags. That atmosphere continued throughout the game. Secretly ‘Ajacied’ Vertonghen will have enjoyed that: the hard core chanted his name.
Speaking of the Belgian: after the break he had a chance at 0-1. He appeared dangerously at the far post at a corner, but Onana was ultimately unable to save. Had Vertonghen, who also held up well against Haller, scored, this would inevitably have created a strange dynamic. You felt the love for Vertonghen in the stands, although it is of course not as great as the love for Ajax itself.
Benfica moaned, clearly lurking for a flattered win after the 2-2 of the first leg, while Ajax did not want to speculate and went in search of the 1-0. Just past the hour, the giant screen showed 12 versus 3 attempts. It did say something about the intentions of both teams, but Ajax was not rewarded for that attacking rage. The more minutes passed, the more nervous the atmosphere became. The entire ArenA realized that one stupid goal against in this phase of the match could be fatal.
The Portuguese hoped that that goal would come from a Ukrainian with a Belgian past: Roman Yaremchuk (ex-AA Gent) could come in, just like former Zulte Waregem player Soualiho Meité. But the Frenchman also had to pump: Ajax kept looking for that one hole. Perhaps the Amsterdammers wanted to do it too well: they tried to force an opening with the better knitting. It seemed as if a hit from the small rectangle counted for colons…
Ajax was better in all areas, except for efficiency. Because Benfica was able to score on a rare opportunity. Darwin Núñez nodded the 0-1 past a not so great goalkeeper Onana, which meant a virtual elimination for the home team. Benfica could now crawl even more emphatically into the hedgehog position: the dream scenario. Vertonghen hurled himself at every ball, fired on his mates constantly and was not averse to knocking here and there. Everything for profit.
It paid off. Ajax took the maximum in the group stage, secretly dreamed of a Champions League final, but has already been knocked out by ‘their’ Vertonghen. The Red Devil fell into his comrades’ arms after the final whistle. Could you blame him?