Football Features

Winners and losers as Ronaldo gives Juventus edge despite Ajax domination

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:09, 10 April 2019

Ajax and Juventus drew 1-1 to keep their Champions League quarter-final evenly-poised ahead of next week’s second leg.

After a relatively even first half in which Ajax had their chances, Cristiano Ronaldo face Juventus the lead just before the break with a wonderful diving header.

Their lead would last less than a minute after half-time with David Neres equalising for Ajax after a mistake from Joao Cancelo.

But who were the winners and losers on the night?

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo had had a quiet first half with Joel Veltman doing fairly well in his marking of the Portuguese superstar. As a result, Juventus had to focus most of their attacks down the right-hand side through Federico Bernardeschi, though Ajax still defended well.

And with Ajax just moments away from going in at half-time level, Ronaldo decided enough was enough and once again was the man in the right place at the right time.

The opener came from a Juventus counter-attack, with the ball worked out to the right by Ronaldo to Joao Cancelo. The Portuguese full-back then sent a beautiful cross into the box and there was his compatriot Ronaldo to get onto the end of it with a picturesque diving header.

It was Ronaldo’s 125th Champions League goal, an astonishing return which even the best strikers in years to come may struggle to beat. And not just a flat-track bully, the goal was also Ronaldo’s 24th goal in the Champions League quarter-finals – 14 more than any other player.

Such is Ronaldo’s penchant for popping up on the biggest stages, the Portuguese hadn’t actually played for Juventus since his hat-trick in the last-16 win over Atletico Madrid being preserved with minor injury problems.

Loser: Mario Mandzukic

While Ronaldo continued to make history on Wednesday night, his attacking team-mate Mario Mandzukic had a game to forget.

Captaining Juventus in Giorgio Chiellini’s absence, the Croatian would have hoped to be using his experience against a relatively young defence including teenager Matthijs de Ligt.

But Mandzukic could barely get a touch of the ball in his 60 minutes on the pitch before being taken off, managing just 21 touches – the fewest of any player on the pitch at the time of his substitution.

With just 21 touches, it can be no surprise that the forward failed to have a single shot on goal or create a chance for his team-mates. In fact, Mandzukic completed just eight passes in 60 minutes from his attempted 17.

But even his substitution for Douglas Costa, moving Ronaldo into the middle, did not change Juventus’ fortunes with Ajax continuing to dominate at the Johan Cruyff Arena.

Night to forget. 21 touches in 60 minutes, fewest on the pitch at the time of his subsitution. 0 shots, 47% pass accuracy, completing just 8 of 17, 0 chances created. Not entirely his fault, with Ajax defending well, but still.

Winner: David Neres

Ajax were brilliant in the first half, but the one thing missing from their play was the finishing. Hakim Ziyech had had four shots on goal but only really tested Wojciech Szczesny with two of those and Ajax were punished.

But something changed at half-time and when David Neres came out of the tunnel, the Brazilian had clearly had enough of his side’s wastefulness in front of goal.

Just 25 seconds into the second half, Neres closed in on Joao Cancelo, forcing the full-back into a mistake. Still with a long way to go until the Juventus area, Neres pushed and forced Daniele Rugani back until he was on the edge of the box.

Even then, the odds were slightly against Neres, but his curling shot was excellent, beating Szczesny easily and pulling Ajax deservedly level.

It was Neres’ 12th goal of the season in all competitions for Ajax, seven of which have come in his past eight matches.

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Loser: Hakim Ziyech

There’s no denying that Hakim Ziyech is a wonderful footballer, but boy was he wasteful against Juventus.

Ajax dominated Juventus for large parts of the match and, on another night, genuinely could have been two or three goals up before half-time instead of going in at the break 1-0 down.

Ziyech was guilty for most of the chances missed before the break, hitting the target with two of his first-half shots. In total, the Moroccan had seven of Ajax’s 17 shots across 90 minutes but failed to register an effort on target after half-time.

Some efforts went close, but as the game went on Ziyech seemed to be getting further away from scoring with his luck perfectly summed up by a shot going out for a throw in.

The game saw Ziyech move clear as the Champions League’s highest shot-taker this season with 45 efforts, 18 of which have been on target, bringing just two goals.

Winner: Erik ten Hag

What a wonderful job Erik ten Hag is doing at Ajax. The Dutch side are once against playing exciting, aesthetically pleasing, attacking football no matter the opponent. He has Ajax back top of the Eredivisie and genuinely in with a chance of reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Ajax are unfortunate not to be taking a lead into next week’s second leg in Turin after dominating the play and enjoying the better chances of the two sides.

But Ten Hag will surely be happy enough with a draw. Yes, Juventus may have scored an away goal, forcing Ajax to come out and attack next week – but Ajax were going to do that anyway.

This Ajax team do not know the meaning of the word quit, full of youth and enthusiasm, ready to repay their fans for the tough spells they have had to endure over the past few years.

Loser: Nicolas Tagliafico

Ajax had started the game so well and no one could have said they didn’t deserve it if they went in at half-time ahead. The Dutch side had much better chances than their opponents and got forward well, with left-back Nicolas Tagliafico doing particularly well.

Tagliafico’s performances this season have seen him linked with a move away from Ajax, with the likes of Arsenal reportedly interested, but the Eredivisie leaders will have to travel to Turin without one of their key men.

With five minutes to go until half-time, and the midfield battle strong, Ajax were awarded a free-kick for a foul on David Neres by Rodrigo Bentancur. But rather than the referee blowing his whistle straight away, Carlos del Cerro Grande opted to see whether there was an advantage. In the second between the foul and the whistle actually being blown, Tagliafico went in hard on Joao Cancelo in trying to contest a 50-50 ball.

Though the free-kick was Ajax’s, Tagliafico’s challenge was still deemed worthy of a yellow card – the left-back’s third in the Champions League this season, ruling him out of the return leg.

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