AFC Ajax advanced to the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, but it was far from straightforward for Danny Blind's men who were forced to come from behind to defeat Brøndby IF 3-1 on the night.
Having conceded a late goal in Denmark a fortnight ago as they were held to a 2-2 draw, Ajax were heading out of the competition when Johan Elmander gave the visitors the lead on the cusp of half-time. The advantage was short-lived, however, and Ryan Babel equalised five minutes after the restart before a late double from substitute Wesley Sneijder sealed a hard-fought victory.
Sneijder was one of several regular first-team players confined to the bench this evening as Blind again fielded a weakened side. And the gamble soon looked like backfiring as Brøndby enjoyed the brighter start, with Swedish striker Elmander causing havoc for a defence lacking Dutch international Johnny Heitinga.
Elmander shot just wide on 12 minutes and he soon found his range, firing past goalkeeper Hans Vonk on 26 minutes, only to see Hatem Trabelsi, clear off the line. Ajax displayed little attacking intent of their own, Nourdin Boukhari's 39th-minute free-kick providing their first shot, albeit an inaccurate one.
Five minute later, the visitors were ahead, when the tenacious Morten Skoubo gained possession in midfield and burst through before feeding Elmander who fired beyond Vonk and into the corner of the net. That proved a stark wake-up call for Ajax, and they were level soon after the re-start, the precocious Babel cutting into the area and rifling a shot past Casper Ankergren at the near post.
From the on, the Dutch outfit were a different side. Hedwiges Maduro forced a smart save from Ankergren, although the goalkeeper was well beaten moments later but Nigel De Jong missed after good work from Steven Pienaar. It was the 62nd-minute introduction of Sneijder that provided the home side with some cutting edge.
He put Ajax ahead with a powerful shot in the 80th minute, and with Brøndby pressing for a second equaliser, secured victory with two minutes left, sliding the ball home after latching on to Maduro's through ball. The result means Ajax will join compatriots PSV Eindhoven in tomorrow's group stage draw, while the Danish team will have to settle for a place in the first round of the UEFA Cup.
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