Ajax were the delight of last season’s Champions League. Their fearless display against the big boys of Europe earned accolades and until they were stunned by a Lucas Moura magic at Amsterdam Arena, Ajax’s progress to the final was almost a surety. But reality can be harsh and when they srike, they strike hard enough. One witnessed how devastated Ajax young guns were on that eventful night. One witnessed the same last night when Valencia’s telling blow took them to Europa League.

Rodrigo scored the decisive goal midway through the first half, taking advantage of Joel Veltman playing him onside. Ferran Torres shaped to shoot from outside the box but instead provided a smart pass to Rodrigo, who fired into the roof of the net. And that was enough to seal the fate of the match.

Ajax rained down 17 shots in the game, but could only direct three on target. They did have most of the control in the match, but it was one of the nights, where nothing was happening in favour of home team. As opportunities went begging, Ajax became tensed and hampered their rhythm to an extent.

Hakim Ziyech wasted a clear chance from six yards. Noa Lang’s acrobatic effort flew wide before Erik ten Hag brought on Klaas Jan Huntelaar to inject momentum. Domenech had to save from Lisandro Martinez and Ziyech at the death. Gabriel then saw red for appearing to headbutt Ajax captain Dusan Tadic in added time, but the 10 men held on to qualify.

The defeat at Amsterdam Arena was the second of the campaign. Frank Lampard’s Chelsea stunned them first when Michy Batshuayi’s strike in 86th minute stunned Ajax and then at Stamford Bridge, the crazy 4-4 affair dented the rhythm of Dutch side from where they struggled to overcome.  In the match against Valencia, a must-win one, they failed to overcome the game of nerves.

Valencia might not have dominated like Ajax, but the one thing they did better was holding off till the last breath – a better exhibition of fighting spirit.

It is never easy to accept such a blow in front of home crowd, but this is nothing new for Ajax. Somehow, the crowd-pressure gets into them and during crunch situations, they give away the advantage.

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