A clinical second-half hit from Alex on a night of AFC Ajax misses earned FC Spartak Moskva a valuable first-leg advantage in this UEFA Europa League round of 16 tie.
The Russian visitors stuttered and spluttered throughout in the face of almost constant Ajax pressure. Yet with Siem de Jong in particular guilty of a host of spurned chances, Alex's opportunistic 57th-minute effort secured a lead to take into next Thursday's return – ending the Dutch side's eight-match winning home run in the process.
Ajax had been given a pep talk from former striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar before kick-off and had De Jong displayed a little more composure in the opening 60 seconds, the FC Schalke 04 forward's future as a motivational speaker could have been assured. De Jong did well to cushion Daley Blind's pass and turn his marker, but snatched at his shot.
It was a sign of things to come. Spartak are still four days away from the start of their Premier-Liga campaign and looked rusty for it. Their grinding through the gears was a marked contrast to the home team's slick transitions, with Vurnon Anita cutting off the supply line to the visiting strikers and feeding his own hungry team-mates.
Lorenzo Ebecilio, Demy de Zeeuw and De Jong all worked goalkeeper Andriy Dykan, yet for all their intent and willing Ajax's execution was lacking. There was no improvement after half-time either, as the unmarked De Zeeuw nodded Ebecilio's cross straight at Dykan when it seemed easier to score.
Within three minutes Alex had delivered the sucker punch, making light work of a couple of half-hearted challenges on the edge of the box and spearing a shot across goal and into the bottom corner. Ajax responded well, ratcheting up the pressure but also the misses – most glaringly when De Jong made a hash of his close-range header, sending it back across goal. Huntelaar may need to have a few more words.
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