AFC Ajax ended their five-year exile from the UEFA Champions League group stage but it was a close-run thing as they beat FC Dynamo Kyiv 2-1 in Amsterdam to advance as 3-2 aggregate winners.
Although second-best for much of the first half, Martin Jol's side seized the advantage through Luis Suárez's close-range finish after 43 minutes. His strike partner Mounir El Hamdaoui doubled their lead 15 minutes from time, but they had to cling on at the end after Andriy Shevchenko's 84th-minute spot-kick left Dynamo needing just one more goal to go through.
After last week's 1-1 draw in Ukraine, Dynamo knew they needed to score to avoid missing out on the group stage for the first time since 2005/06, and Valeri Gazzaev's visitors took the game to Ajax from the off. Roman Eremenko's low drive at Maarten Stekelenburg after two minutes set the tone and the only thing lacking from the visitors' play was a finishing touch. Oleh Gusev sent a free header over from Andriy Yarmolenko's cross in the ninth minute as Dynamo established a control that might have left the home fans fearing a repeat of Ajax's costly home qualifying losses to FC København and SK Slavia Praha in recent years.
Gusev went close again after 20 minutes, foiled by the right leg of Stekelenberg after Artem Milevskiy's angled pass inside left-back Urby Emanuelson had put him clear. Dynamo came again as Gusev and Danilo Silva combined to tee up Yarmolenko, but he failed to turn the latter's cross past the hosts' No1. Ajax's first-half threat had been limited to a long-range Suárez drive and El Hamdaoui's scuffed effort that bounced away off a defender, yet two minutes before the break they struck. Suárez, latching on to Jan Vertonghen's deflected free-kick, rounded Maxym Koval and found the net from a narrow angle.
If Suárez got the better of Koval then, the 17-year-old custodian showed his prowess just after the restart with a flying save to stop the Ajax skipper's free-kick. That was the closest either side came to a goal in the second half until Ajax got their crucial second when, just two minutes after taking the field, substitute Miralem Sulejmani broke into the box and squared for El Hamdaoui to tap into an empty net. Vertonghen ensured a nervy finish when he brought down Dynamo substitute Miloš Ninković with six minutes remaining and Shevchenko tucked away the spot kick, but Ajax had just about done enough.