AFC Ajax 2-1 Olympique Lyonnais
Two goals from Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic helped ten-man AFC Ajax signal their return to UEFA Champions League action with a 2-1 Group D victory over French champions Olympique Lyonnais at the Amsterdam ArenA.
Just eleven minutes of a pulsating encounter had elapsed when Ibrahimovic produced a moment of sublime skill to score his first. Seemingly crowded out near the Lyon by-line, the 20-year-old beat two defenders before cutting into the penalty area on the left and unleashing a powerful right-foot shot. It sailed past Grégory Coupet and found the back of the net off the inside of the French goalkpeeper's back post.
But Ajax, unchanged from the side which beat FC Zwolle 2-0 at the weekend, could have found themselves a goal down seconds before Ibrahimovic's wonderful strike. Lyon's Brazilian striker Sonny Anderson had a five-metre headstart over the home defence in their pursuit of a long ball forward, but 19-year-old goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg raced off his line to make a fine block.
Despite making four changes to the lineup which lost 1-0 to FC Nantes Atlantique at the weekend, Lyon coach Paul Le Guen failed to inject enough invention to break down an organised Ajax defence bossed flawlessly by Cristian Chivu. Abubakari Yakubu's booking for a strong tackle from behind was the only dampener on a wonderful first-half display by the home side, who created several good chances with their blend of attacking, fast-moving football.
Andy van der Meyde and Ibrahimovic both went close before a beautiful move ten minutes before the break brought Ajax their second goal. Jari Litmanen slipped a wonderful ball through two Lyon defenders to find Victor Sikora on the right-hand side. He pulled the ball back for the on-rushing Ibrahimovic, who tucked a shot into the unguarded net.
Lyon were all at sea and, with the half-time interval fast approaching, Le Guen replaced the lightweight Sidney Govou with hard-working Tony Vairelles, as the visitors opted for a more direct approach. The change worked in Lyon's favour. Juninho Pernambuca and Sonny Anderson went close before two further chances were fashioned.
First, the ball fell to Vikash Dhorasoo on the edge of the Ajax area and the Lyon forward cracked an effort that seemed destined for the corner of the net until Stekelenburg made a wonderful save low to his left. From the corner Edmílson sent the ball goalwards, but American defender John O'Brien made a stunning headed clearance off his own goalline.
Sonny Anderson finally found the net six minutes from time. The 31-year-old striker brought the ball down in the Ajax area, flicked it over the head of substitute André Bergdølmo and, with his back to goal, lobbed an audacious effort over Stekelenburg and into the far corner. Despite Yakubu's second yellow card for a thunderous challenge during a frantic last five minutes, ten-man Ajax held on to record a precious victory.