Despite playing with ten men for almost 70 minutes, AC Milan held off an AFC Ajax onslaught to secure the point that clinched second place in Group H and a berth in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.
The visitors created several opportunities to score before and after Riccardo Montolivo's sending-off on 22 minutes, but a mix of resolute defending by Milan and poor finishing by Ajax allowed the Rossoneri to end in possession of the all-important second spot. With only a win good enough for Ajax to usurp the hosts, the result means the Dutch side's immediate European future lies in the UEFA Europa League.
Ajax started well and went close to taking an early lead after a slick team move, only for Cristián Zapata to block Viktor Fischer's shot with his body. From Lasse Schöne's resulting corner Christian Poulsen rose highest to flick towards the far post, only to see his deft header come back off the upright with Christian Abbiati beaten.
After 19 minutes a diving header by Davy Klaassen forced the Milan keeper into a plunging save to his left to prevent the 20-year-old from continuing his great scoring form, which has yielded five goals in his last three Eredivisie outings. Things swung further Ajax's way when home captain Montolivo received a red card for a late challenge on Poulsen.
With his captain off, and knowing a point would suffice, coach Massimiliano Allegri replaced forward Stephan El Shaarawy with a midfield reinforcement in Andrea Poli. However, the Ajax urgency seemed to flag after the dismissal, enabling Milan to breathe until the interval. Visiting boss Frank de Boer did not waste time in bolstering his attacking options, sending on Danny Hoesen at half-time and five minutes later Fischer fired over from a good position after a nice one-two with the substitute. Klaassen also tried his luck from outside the area but Abbiati was his equal.
The Ajax youngster had a clearer sight of goal shortly after, when a neat interchange on the edge of the box worked space on the right, yet his powerful effort from a tight angle was repelled by the boot of Abbiati. As time ticked down things became ever more frantic and it came to a head when, with the last kick of the game, Klaassen sent an overhead volley a fraction wide of the post. It was the cue for Milan and the hordes of home fans to emit a huge sigh of relief.
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