Benfica have progressed to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2016 after beating Ajax 1-0 (3-2 on aggregate) in the Champions League last 16.
Darwin Nunez’s header in the 76th minute proved the difference on a night where Ajax dominated possession, but the visitors fought harder and held on to secure a place in the last eight.
Ajax began the game the better of the two sides and finished the first half with eight attempts on goal, but only two on target.
The first shot on target came to Antony in the 34th minute, but his powerful effort looking for the bottom corner was well claimed by Odysseas Vlachodimos. Moments later Ryan Gravenberch followed up with a fierce drive which Vlachodimos was forced to tip over the bar.
The second half was an uneventful affair with Ajax continuing to pressure but unable to really challenge Vlachodimos in goal as Benfica’s defence held firm.
Dusan Tadic, who was Ajax’s liveliest player on the night, came closest with a shot shortly after the break but his strike from the edge of the box flew narrowly over the bar.
And it was Benfica who produced a smash and grab victory thanks to Nunez’s header in the 76th minute.
The 22-year-old Uruguayan met Grimaldo’s fine cross into the box, rose above his marker Jurrien Timber and thumped his header in beyond Andre Onana, who flew off his line to try and meet the delivery, to silence the boisterous crowd inside Johan Cruyff ArenA.
TALKING POINT – PARKING THE BUS PAYS OFF
Benfica sat back, had only 34 per cent possession and defended resolutely against an Ajax team who could not find a way through their sturdy defence.
Nicolas Otamendi and Jan Vertonghen were defensively excellent for the visitors, neutralising Sebastien Haller and Ajax’s attacking entourage, while Nunez capitalised on Benfica’s only shot on target in the game.
Few would have predicted a Benfica win over two legs, but the calibre of players in their starting XI cannot be ignored heading into the quarter-finals. They showed against Ajax over two legs just how clinical they can be in attack.
MAN OF THE MATCH – GRIMALDO
The left-back stopped Antony from having a significant influence on the game, was dangerous when he had the rare opportunities to venture forward and provided a fine cross into the box for Nunez’s goal from a free-kick.
Ajax: Onana (5), Mazraoui (5), Timber (5), Martinez (5), Blind (4), Alvarez (6), Gravenberch (6), Berghuis (6), Tadic (7), Antony (5), Haller (4)
Subs: Klaassen (N/A), Brobbey (N/A), Kudus (N/A)
Benfica: Vlachodimos (7), Gilberto (7), Otamendi (7), Vertonghen (7), Grimaldo (8), Everton (6), Taarabt (6), Weigl (6), Silva (5), Ramos (5), Nunez (6)
Subs: Meite (6), Yaremchuk (6), Goncalves (N/A), Bernardo (N/A), Lazaro (N/A)
34′- ANTONY SHOT SAVED Antony has a fizzing low drive from outside the box, but his effort looking for the bottom corner is claimed by Vlachodimos. That is Ajax’s first shot on target.
36′ – GRAVENBERCH COMES CLOSE! This is better from Ajax. Gravenberch cuts inside and drives towards the edge of the box. He gets a vicious driven strike away which Vlachodimos has to tip over the bar! The following corner results in a Benfica free-kick.
76′ – GOAL! BENFICA TAKE THE LEAD! Nunez puts Benfica in front! The visitors lead 1-0 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate thanks to the Uruguayan! The free-kick swung into the box from the right flank is met by Nunez, ahead of Onana who comes flying out, and he gets the better of his marker Timber to nod the Portuguese club in front!