FC Thun came agonisingly close to pulling off a remarkable result at the Stade de Suisse, but were sunk by AFC Ajax in a dramatic finale.
The Swiss side trailed twice but battled back each time and looked to have earned a share of the spoils as the game headed into added time. But any thoughts of celebrations were quickly dashed by the Dutch visitors who scored twice through Nigel de Jong and Nourdin Boukhari to hand the four-time European champions a hugely important victory.
Given Thun's recent habit of leaking goals, coach Urs Schönenberger opted to start with a defensive midfield formation. The silky skills of Brazilians Adriano Pimenta and Gelson Rodrigues gave way to the more defence-minded Tiago Bernardini and Selver Hodzic, with the latter handed the responsibility of marking Ajax's attacking instigator Wesley Sneijder as Thun sought to defend their 100 per cent record of three wins and three clean sheets at the stadium that acts as their European home.
The ploy worked for 27 minutes before Sneijder slipped his marker to pounce on a loose ball in the Thun penalty area and rifle his shot into the net. A goal behind, Schönenberger responded by introducing Adriano at the expense of centre-back Ljubo Milicevic and the tactic paid dividends eleven minutes after the restart when the Brazilian midfielder found Mauro Lustrinelli with a defence-splitting pass. The striker made no mistake to bring the scores level.
Spurred on by a partisan home crowd, Thun drove forward at every opportunity, but this left gaps in defence and they were made to pay just after the hour when Ryan Babel caught Alen Orman and Armand Deumi unawares, teeing the ball up for Yannis Anastasiou to add to the two goals he registered in Ajax's 2-0 win in Amsterdam a fortnight ago.
Going for broke
The ease with which Thun's defence was shredded might have sent alarm bells ringing in Schönenberger's head, but he gambled once again by bringing on Andres Gerber in place of full-back Orman. The void in the right side of Thun's defence was plugged by Nelson Ferreira, who is more used to racing down the flank than defending it.
The change proved the catalyst for a second equaliser when Adriano latched on to a lay-off from Bernardini to level on 74 minutes. Perhaps convinced he possessed the Midas touch, Schönenberger took one last risk as he chased an unlikely win, introducing striker Eren Sen with nine minutes left to play. It set the stage for a famous night in Berne, but Lustrinelli missed his cue by glancing a header wide and Ajax brought the curtain down on his bold strategy with two late goals.