Both AFC Ajax and Internazionale FC reached the second group stage of the UEFA Champions League despite a 2-1 defeat for the home side at the Amsterdam ArenA, as the closely fought Group D ended in dramatic style.
Argentinian striker Hernán Crespo scored twice in as many minutes in the second half to turn the game on its head after an opening period totally dominated by Ronald Koeman's Ajax. However, a 1-1 draw between Rosenborg BK and Olympique Lyonnais in the other group game ensured both sides would reach the second stage.
Ajax should have taken a commanding lead into the half-time interval. Koeman's troops were well in charge despite the absence of suspended defender Cristian Chivu and injured strikers Jari Litmanen and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The crowd at the Amsterdam ArenA were enraged when the home side had a goal disallowed after just eight minutes. A ball from the right found striker Ahmed Hossam 'Mido', and though Inter goalkeeper Francsco Toldo managed to save his header, he could do little to prevent Rafael van der Vaart steering the loose ball into an empty net. The youngster wheeled away to celebrate but the referee's assistant had raised his flag for offside.
That near miss briefly spurred Inter into action with Christian Vieri and Crespo looking lively up front, but Ajax rallied and as the first 45 minutes continued, their dominance in midfield was almost complete. All that was missing was a goal. Van der Vaart stung Toldo's palms with a fierce long-range drive after 30 minutes, before Nigel de Jong flashed the ball centimetres over the goalkeeper's crossbar with a near-post header from a corner.
It was all the more amazing then that in the space of two minutes, Ajax's hopes of a win evaporated as two moments of slack defending cost them two goals. Luigi Di Biagio was allowed too much time as he cut in from the left five minutes after the interval, and his chipped cross was headed firmly past Joey Didulica by the tireless Crespo. Marking was again at fault two minutes later as Ajax found themselves short-staffed at the back and Vieri's beautiful lofted cross was headed past Didulica by Crespo from ten metres.
Past the post
Ajax quickly regained some of their poise and Mido was unlucky not to reduce the deficit after 59 minutes when he turned and shot in the area only to see his effort flash just wide of Toldo's left-hand post.
However, Di Biagio could consider himself even more unlucky after a poor clearance from Didulica put Ajax in trouble with eight minutes remaining. As Ajax tried to claim the ball back, Di Biagio hit a terrific shot which rattled off the crossbar, hit the back of the diving goalkeeper and somehow bounced over the bar for a corner.
With the news of the draw in Trondheim filtering through, Ajax finally found the luck that had eluded them for so long as Van der Vaart's shot from 15 metres was deflected past Toldo by defender Iván Cordoba four minutes into added time.