Darwin Nunes went home in the 77th minute as Benfica beat Ajax on Tuesday to win the second-leg of 16 in Amsterdam to advance to the Champions League quarter-finals 3-2 on aggregate. Ajax, who dominated the first half, failed to recover from a header as two-time European Cup winners Benfica looked forward to Friday’s Champions League quarter-final draw.
Ajax had many possessions but couldn’t break Benfica’s defence while Benfica held on. Ajax completely dominated possession and appeared to be the favourites, but the late set-piece was the game’s turning point. Ten minutes before half-time, Benfica goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos made a save and blocked Antoni as Ajax continued to absorb the pressure.
In the first half, Dusan Tadić opened the Ajax scoring with Sebastian Haller scoring an own goal in the 26th minute. Gonzalo Ramos headbutted Ajax once more as Benfica were chasing their first goal. It was Nunez who sealed the draw by scoring the decisive goal in Benfica’s 1-0 win in Amsterdam. Erik ten Hag had made changes lately as Ajax looked to equalise, but former Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen robbed Sebastian Haller of a late chance with a brilliant header to secure Benfica’s second victory in their last 11 away matches in the Netherlands and progressed in the UEFA Champions League.
This victory extends Benfica’s unbeaten streak to eight games in all competitions and, having won only one of Benfica’s last 14 away games in the Champions League (excluding qualifiers), is in the top eight of the previous European elite tournaments with his first victory over Ajax in seven games since 1969. Having conceded only five goals in 23 league matches until the end of February, Benfica conceded six in just their last three games. Neither Sporting Lisbon nor Benfica had much success in the Europa League in 2012-13 and 2013-14. Still, the club reached the Europa League final twice, the first of which was in their previous appearance 23 years later in the European final.
After an unsuccessful debut in the UEFA competition in the 1957–58 European Cup, where Benfica lost to Sevilla in the first round, Benfica signed the Hungarian coach Béla Guttmann, who led the team to the first European Cup final on the 31st. May 1961. Knocking out groups such as Belgium Anderlecht, Steaua Bucharest, and Benfica reached their sixth European Cup final. They faced PSV in a match played at the Stuttgart Neckarstadion on 25 May 1988. Benfica lost 5-0 to England’s Everton in the group stage and lost 3-2 on aggregate to Marseille in the round of 16. Benfica returned to the UEFA Champions League the following season but was relegated to the Europa League in 2006-07 and 2007-08.
As the tournament gets tougher, will Benfica be able to handle the pressure?