Substitute Lionel Mathis' dramatic late goal completed a memorable comeback for AJ Auxerre who defeated AFC Ajax 3-1 at Abbé-Deschamps to set up an all-French tie against LOSC Lille Métropole in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup.
After losing the first leg 1-0, Auxerre appeared to be on their way out of the competition on the away-goals rule until Mathis struck to tip the tie in the French side's favour with four minutes to play. Earlier goals from Bonaventure Kalou and Benoît Cheyrou had set up the victory, ultimately rendering Ryan Babel's 36th-minute goal for Ajax useless.
Ajax's evening had begun badly with the news that influential captain Rafael van der Vaart would not be able to take part because of flu. Wesley Sneijder, however, returned after a hamstring problem. Auxerre, smarting from their shock weekend loss to FC Istres, made two changes to their lineup. The most significant saw striker Benjani Mwaruwari return after being rested on Sunday.
As you would expect from a team trailing after the first leg, Auxerre started strongly with two Jean-Sébastien Jaurès crosses from the left and two Benjani shots forcing Maarten Stekelenburg into good saves. The pressure paid off when Kalou got the breakthrough for the home side on 31 minutes. Cheyrou floated over a free-kick from the right and the Ivorian international, with his back to goal, flicked the ball in with his head.
Despite dominating the play Auxerre were stunned just five minutes later when Babel got a crucial away goal for Ajax. Made by Hatem Trabelsi's run and cut back from the right, the ball fell to the 18-year-old on the edge of the penalty area and he showed just what a talent he is, lashing the ball past Fabien Cool.
Auxerre coach Guy Roux, in his 86th game in charge in UEFA club competitions, did not panic during half-time and was rewarded just ten minutes after the break when his team regained the lead on the night - Cheyrou firing in at the second attempt after seeing his initial shot blocked.
Sensing victory, Auxerre continued to press, but too often their finishing let them down. When they did hit the target, they found Stekelenburg a tough opponent, the Ajax stopper saving a Kalou volley from six metres on 79 minutes. But just as it seemed all hope had gone for Auxerre, substitute Mathis struck, arriving late to send a bullet header into the net from a corner to set up next month's all-French tie.
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