Ajax knows how to push boundaries

Ajax did it again.

After Real Madrid, the Amsterdamers came from behind to beat Juventus on the road and advanced to the UEFA Champions League semifinals against the Manchester City-Tottenham winner with a 2-1 victory in Turin (3-2 on aggregate).

And once again, there was little doubt who was the better team. Ajax should have scored four or five goals against Juventus, Serie A's runaway leader with a 17-point lead over Napoli with six games to play.

Ajax put on a clinic with its ability to spread the field and link up on the counterattack. The winning goal, though, came off a set piece in the 67th minute when 19-year-old captain Matthijs de Ligt rose above two Juve defenders to score on a powerful header.

The result sent Ajax to the semifinals for the first time since 1996-97 and deprived Juve star Cristiano Ronaldo of a spot in the final four the first time since 2010.

Ajax coach Erik ten Hag praised his players for playing with confidence and patience.

"It's a result that is very important for Dutch football," he said. "We are on the way back, the signs are there. We have incredible talents and for our nation, it will get better and better."

The only thing ten Hag was disappointed about was that Ajax didn't put the game away after it took the lead.

“In the second half," he said, "we had three, four clearcut chances. I think we should have put the game to bed much faster. But I am happy and proud of my team.”

Frenkie de Jong, the 21-year-old midfielder headed to Barcelona next season, and de Ligt are the big names on Ajax, but they are only two players in Europe's most exciting young team.

The web site Transmarkt values nine Ajax players at 20 million euros or more (1 euro=$1.13):

Frenkie de Jong, Netherlands (21), 75 million
Matthijs de Ligt, Netherlands (19), 70 million
Hakim Ziyech, Morocco (26), 35 million
Andre Onana, Cameroon (23), 35 million
David Neres, Brazil (22), 32 million
Nicolas Tagliafico, Argentina (26), 25 million
Donny van de Beek, Netherlands (21), 25 million
Kasper Dolberg, Denmark (21), 22 million
Dusan Tadic, Serbia (30), 20 million
Note: In parentheses are ages.

The challenge will be to keep the team together -- or rebuild it after it is broken up. Monaco was in a similar situation two years ago. Its brilliant team led by 18-year-old Kylian Mbappe reached the semifinals of the 2017 Champions League, but players were systematically sold over the next two summers, leaving it with a shadow of its former self and mired in 16th place in Ligue 1 after an early relegation scare.

In the meantime, Ten Hag can only relish what he described as the enjoyment of this season's run that began in July when Ajax began qualifying that extended over three rounds.

“This team grows and grows," ten Hag said. "We know how to push boundaries every time. And with Tottenham or Manchester City there will be another challenge. We look forward to it."

Photo: Beautiful Sports/Imago/Icon Sportswire

8 comments about "Ajax knows how to push boundaries".
  1. beautiful game, April 17, 2019 at 3:15 p.m.

    Ajax total football returns to big stage... olid team, poised, and efficient.

  2. frank schoon, April 17, 2019 at 4:28 p.m.

    The Italians have never changed their DNA. They look good until you mark them tight, they are not good in combinational play but only in counterattacking soccer, they need space in order to operate. Buying a great player hoping for him to score...that's it.

  3. beautiful game replied, April 17, 2019 at 5:42 p.m.

    F.S.; you're right that the DNA never changed, but I beg to differ that Ajax beat them because it was the better team on the day. IMHO, you're over-analyzing Juve which for decades has been a successful club team. Give credit where it's due, Ajax total football prevailed. I wonder what you mean by Juve "not good in combinatiom play." 

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, April 17, 2019 at 8:49 p.m.

    I assume that he means that their movement off the ball is deficient (poor positional play) to break down defenses.

  5. frank schoon replied, April 17, 2019 at 9:06 p.m.

    Bob, well put

  6. frank schoon, April 17, 2019 at 9:06 p.m.

    BG, Ajax doesn’t play total football, Ajax in the 70’s and the dutch team ‘WC’74 did and that was the last time it was ever played . “Total Football” is a term way over used and applied to dutch soccer today that has no basis.
    juventus like other Italian teams are very defensive oriented which is their DNA. When you’re defensively oriented  you don’t look to create but quickly counterattack. When you counterattack ,waiting for the other team to make a mistake, then combinational play and creative play is not a characteristic . Well when you face a team like Ajax that applies high pressure soccer and quickly jump upon you as soon as you have the ball then you need to be able to make creative combinational passes  and plays, looking for teammates to build up an attack ,all of which will not be a strong point of counter attacking teams. And it was very obvious the Italian players had difficulty with this style of play.
    . I remember in the early 90’s with the new rule change of not being able to pass the ball back to the goalie, it was the Italian defenders that had the most difficulty with this rule change for they were forced to handle the ball which was not their strong point.
    i’m not Impressed with Italian soccer, I never watch it. The last time  I liked Italian soccer was when  AC Milan played in the90’s when Sacci coached and had the dutch players , van Basten,Rykaard, Gullit. Sacci spend time studying Ajax when Cruyff was coach of Ajax and decided to play an attacking creative style.

  7. beautiful game replied, April 18, 2019 at 11:17 a.m.

    Bottom line is that Ajax was the better team...I too do not follow Calsio with the exception of AC Milan in its last two cycles of entertainining football, as it lacks the eye-pleasing dynamics

  8. frank schoon replied, April 18, 2019 at 12:20 p.m.

    BG, Ajax was the better team also playing wise, but Juventus can beat Ajax, that's soccer....
    I've read some of the comments of the Italian sport press. One stated that Juventus basically buys players and hope players likes Ronaldo will put the ball in the net....Too much was relied upon Ronaldo. Ajax can't compete ,money wise, and that is why they had 5-6 Ajax players that came from their own youth development program. Juventus wants to buy Ligt the 19year old captain of Ajax. The dutch national with Ligt and van Dyk of Liverpool,a defender and voted English player of the year or something like ,will give the Dutch National team a strong defense. Will see what Koeman will make of this team... Did you know that the Ajax coach Ten Hag was an assistant at Bayern for Guardiola...amazing how much influence Cruyff still has

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