It ended all square between Benfica and Ajax after a four-goal thriller in the first leg of their round of 16 tie at the Estadio da Luz.
The visitor’s struck first through a brilliantly composed Dusan Tadic finish. The former Southampton player was found unmarked at the back post and was able to cushion the ball back across goal and into the top corner.
Sebastien Haller – who has been on fine form throughout his debut Champions League campaign – turned the ball into his own net as Benfica inherited a fortunate equaliser. Jan Vertonghen picked up a loose ball from a corner, and tried his luck as he hammered the ball back across goal, which steered off Hallers right leg and an empty net.
Three minutes later and just shy of the half-hour mark, Haller restored Ajax’s advantage. He managed to latch on to a Tadic cross and after his first effort was blocked by Vertonghen, poked the rebound beyond Odysseas Vlachodimos.
Benfica pushed much harder for an equaliser in the second half, and reaped the rewards when substitute Roman Yaremchuk pulled the scores level.
Goncalo Ramos had a long range effort saved by Pasveer, but the goalkeeper couldn’t get to his feet quick enough as Yaremchuk arrived sharpest to nod the rebound into an empty net.
Both sides had opportunities to snatch the win, but the tie remains level going into the second leg.
TALKING POINT – ANTONY LUCKY TO NOT HAVE SEEN RED
In the dying minutes of the game, Ajax’s Antony – who had been brilliant all night – pushed his head into Darwin Nunez’s to give the referee a decision to make. Luckily for the Brazilian, the ref only issued a yellow card. It means he remains eligible for the return leg, but it was a senseless risk from Antony to lose his cool with minutes to go. It could – and probably should have – been a red card.
He certainly possesses the qualities to go into the second leg and win this tie on his own, which has caused controversy as Benfica will feel he should have gone. Even tonight after the incident, he had a shot from range that could have found its way past Odysseas, but the goalkeeper was able to beat it away.
MAN OF THE MATCH – DUSAN TADIC (AJAX)
Haller will write the headlines after his 11th goal in seven Champions League games to cancel out his own goal three minutes previously, but Tadic quietly went about his business tonight and played a big part in Ajax’s performance that sees them go into the next leg in a strong position.
Tadic opened the scoring with a magnificent finish that oozed pure quality. He entered the box unmarked at the back-post to meet a Mazraoui cross and guide the ball mid-flight into the top right corner.
BENFICA: Vlachodimos 6, Grimaldo 6, Otamendi 7, Gilberto 6, Vertonghen 7, Weigl 5, Rafa 7, Everton 6, Taarabt 6, Ramos 7, Nunez 6
Subs: Valentino N/A, Bernardo N/A, Gonçalves N/A, Yaremchuk 7
AJAX: Pasveer 6, Blind 6, Mazraoui 7, Martinez 6, Timber 6, Gravenberch 7, Alvarez 7, Berghuis 5, Tadic 8, Antony 8, Haller 7
Subs: Klaassen 5, Tagliafico 6, Rensch N/A
18’ – GOAL! BENFICA 0-1 AJAX (TADIC): That’s a beautiful finish from the skipper! Benfica are caught out as a stray ball is quickly pounced on by Mazraoui, who gets the ball in the box where Tadic – at the back post – brilliantly cushions his effort into the top right corner.
26’ – GOAL! BENFICA 1-1 AJAX (HALLER O.G.): We expected him to be on the score sheet, but not in that end! Vertonghen picks up a loose ball from a corner, and smashes the ball back across goal, only for it to ricochet off of Haller and find its way into the net. There’s not a lot he could do, game on!
29’ – GOAL! BENFICA 1-2 AJAX (HALLER): He’s found the right end and resortes Ajax’s lead almost instantly! He gets on the end of Tadic’s cross and as his first effort is blocked by Vertonghen, finds the target with the rebound!
72’ – GOAL! BENFICA 2-2 AJAX (YAREMCHUK): There’s the equaliser! Ramos has a long range effort saved by Pasveer but the goalkeeper can’t get to his feet quick enough as Yaremchuk is there to nod the rebound home into an empty net!
87’ – RIDICULOUS FROM ANTONY! He’s lucky to get away with that! He looked as though he pushed his head towards Nunez’s and was certain for a red card, but he’s been let off!