AFC Ajax held on for a 1-1 draw against AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico to qualify for the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League. Andy van der Meyde's first-minute strike had been equalised by Antonio Cassano, and with victory being good enough for Roma to qualify they threw everything at the visiting defence in a tense finale, but to no avail.
The game got off to an explosive start, when, with less than a minute gone, Ajax had the lead. Zlatan Ibrahimovic did well to head down to Rafael van der Vaart and the young Dutch international midfield player then flicked the ball into space on the left. Van der Meyde was first to it, and cut inside the penalty area before sending an unstoppable shot across Ivan Pelizzoli and into the roof of the net.
The tempo barely slowed, as both sides played open attacking football for the entire first half. After eight minutes, Damiano Tommasi should have equalised, but the ball seemed to bobble as he made contact from six metres out. It flew over Roma were in the ascendancy, but Ajax almost added to their lead in the 20th minute. Van der Meyde cut in from the right, but this time his right-footed shot lacked the accuracy of his first strike.
Four minutes later, Roma were level. With the pressure building on the Ajax defence, they were split by a reverse pass from French international Vincent Candela. Cassano had timed his run well, and finished low and right-footed past Bogdan Lobont.
The goal triggered an onslaught of attacking play by Fabio Capello's side. Aldair hit the bar with a rasping drive after a corner was only half cleared, while Marco Delvecchio, Francisco Lima and Tommasi all missed promising headers.
Ibrahimovic had three good chances to win the game for Ajax in the second half – one a fizzing long-range volley, one a low drive, the last an unfortunate swing and miss in the box. However, it was Roma who continued to dominate possession and Ajax were indebted to an outstanding save from Lobont on the hour mark. Candela struck a 25-metre free-kick that seemed destined for the top corner, only for the Romanian keeper to scramble across and somehow touch it over.
Roma were rampant as they sought a winning goal, with Cristian Chivu making heroic challenge after heroic challenge. Substitute Diego Fuser fired in a low cross that a sliding Delvecchio just missed. Fuser then had an even better chance with three minutes to go, but with just Lobont to beat, he sent his shot over.
Ajax put every man behind the ball in added time, but it did not stop Roma having one final chance to propel themselves into the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time. Cassano crossed from the left flank, but Christian Panucci's header sailed agonisingly wide and with it went Roma's hopes of progress.