AFC Ajax deservedly defeated FC Barcelona 2-1 despite playing almost the entire second half with ten men.
The Eredivisie champions had their illustrious opponents on the rack from the word go and went ahead when Thulani Serero drilled a low shot beyond José Manuel Pinto. The Blaugrana did surprisingly little in response, and the home side's continued excellence was rewarded when Danny Hoesen netted after the Barça goalkeeper spilled a Viktor Fischer strike. Xavi Hernández's penalty and Jöel Veltman's red card changed the tack of the game, yet Ajax managed to withstand the pressure, claiming three precious points that catapult them back into contention in UEFA Champions League Group H.
Despite having lost their previous nine encounters against Spanish opposition, Ajax did not start like underdogs. Tenacious in the tackle and pressing high up the park, they gave the visitors no time to settle. Pinto was the first keeper called to action, smothering a Fischer drive, though he was powerless to prevent his team falling behind on 19 minutes. Ricardo van Rhijn fired in an excellent early cross and the inrushing Serero artfully prodded home. The already ecstatic home support nearly lifted the roof off the stadium when Lasse Schöne's vicously swerving effort narrowly cleared the bar after a superb run and pass by Nicolai Boilesen.
A timely intervention by Veltman stopped Neymar getting a clean shot when through on Jasper Cillessen. Yet it was the Amsterdam outfit who continued to defy the odds by doubling their lead in the 42nd minute. Pinto did well to block a rasping Fischer attempt and Hoesen picked up the rebound to rifle home. Not surprisingly, Frank de Boer's side left the field to a standing ovation.
The match took a dramatic twist almost immediately after the restart. Van Rhijn's pass exposed Veltman and his last-gasp tackle on Neymar resulted in a straight red card and a penalty. Xavi converted with aplomb. Cillessen then brilliantly tipped over a Neymar lob after a delightful through ball by Andrés Iniesta as Barça tried to turn the screw. Yet Gerardo Martino's men fashioned relatively few clear-cut openings out of their territorial superiority. In the end Ajax managed to see out the game without too much discomfort. Their mission is now clear: beat AC Milan in Italy and claim second spot in Group H. After tonight's performance it would be no more than they deserve.
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