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Benfica vs Ajax: UEFA Champions League background, form guide, previous meetings

Benfica's first foray into the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds for five years pits them against an Ajax team aiming to replicate their 2018/19 run.

Benfica's Rafa Silva pursues Ajax's Dušan Tadić during the sides' 2018 UEFA Champions League meeting in Lisbon
Benfica's Rafa Silva pursues Ajax's Dušan Tadić during the sides' 2018 UEFA Champions League meeting in Lisbon VI-Images via Getty Images

Benfica's first foray into the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds for five years pits them against an Ajax team aiming to replicate their 2018/19 run.

• The Portuguese side are making their sixth knockout appearance and are looking to reach the quarter-finals for the fifth time, while Ajax are in the round of 16 for only the second occasion since 2005/06 but reached the semi-finals the last time they got this far, three seasons ago.

• Ajax finished first in Group C this season, one of three clubs to win all six group games along with Liverpool (Group B) and Bayern München (E), and are the first Dutch team to collect maximum points in a UEFA Champions League group stage.

• Benfica were second behind Bayern in Group E, collecting eight points – ten fewer than Bayern but one more than Barcelona. The Lisbon club are under new management following the departure of Jorge Jesus on 28 December, B team coach Nélson Veríssimo taking over until the end of the season.

• This is one of two ties in the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League round of 16, along with Inter-Liverpool, to bring together two former European Cup winners.

2018 highlights: Benfica 1-1 Ajax

Previous meetings
• Ajax took four points off Benfica when the sides last met, in the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League group stage. Noussair Mazraoui scored the only goal in Amsterdam on Matchday 3 two minutes into added time before Dušan Tadić's 61st-minute equaliser cancelled out a 29th-minute Jonas strike for the home side in Lisbon.

• That helped Ajax finish second behind Bayern in Group E on 12 points, five more than third-placed Benfica.

• The sides had played in five previous contests before 2018/19 – all in a three-year period between 1969 and 1972.

• It took a replay to separate the clubs in the 1968/69 European Cup quarter-finals, Benfica winning the first leg 3-1 in Amsterdam – still their only victory against Ajax – but losing by the same scoreline in Lisbon. Even in the Paris replay, extra time was needed for the victors to finally be decided, Ajax running out 3-0 winners with Inge Danielsson scoring twice to make it four goals in the tie.

• Ajax's victorious 1971/72 European Cup campaign featured another tight tie with Benfica, Sjaak Swart scoring the only goal of the semi-final in the Amsterdam first leg.

Benfica vs Ajax: the latest from the match
Youth League highlights: Benfica 3-0 Ajax

Form guide

• The Lisbon side won two, drew two and lost two of their Group E games, both victories coming at home – 3-0 against Barcelona on Matchday 2 and, decisively, 2-0 against Dynamo Kyiv on Matchday 6 – while they shipped nine goals in losing both games against Bayern (0-4 h, 2-5 a).

• Third in the Portuguese Liga in 2020/21, nine points adrift of champions Sporting CP, the most recent of Benfica's 15 previous UEFA Champions League group stage campaigns came in 2019/20 – their tenth in succession.

• Two seasons ago Benfica bowed out after the group stage for the third year running, finishing third in their section behind Leipzig and Lyon with seven points, ahead of Zenit on head-to-head record. They went on to lose 5-4 on aggregate to Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Europa League round of 32.

• Benfica began their 2021/22 European campaign in the third qualifying round, where they won 2-0 both away and at home against Spartak Moskva. They then edged out PSV Eindhoven in the play-offs (2-1 h, 0-0 a) in a repeat of the 1988 European Cup final.

• Benfica's 2020/21 UEFA Champions League campaign lasted a single match, a 2-1 defeat at PAOK in the third qualifying round. They went on to finish second in their UEFA Europa League section behind Rangers before losing 4-3 on aggregate to Arsenal in the round of 32, a 1-1 draw in Rome preceding a 3-2 loss in Piraeus with both games played at neutral venues.

• The Portuguese side were unbeaten in nine European games in Lisbon (W7 D2), and had won four in a row, before losing 4-0 to Bayern on Matchday 2; a 2-1 loss against Leipzig on Matchday 1 of the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League is their only other defeat in 17 European matches at their own stadium (W11 D4).

• The Lisbon giants have reached seven European Cup finals, winning the trophy in 1961 and 1962 but losing on their five subsequent appearances, most recently against AC Milan in 1990.

• Benfica's last round of 16 appearance, in 2016/17, ended in defeat by Borussia Dortmund, a 1-0 home first-leg win undone by a 4-0 loss in Germany. That was the Portuguese side's first defeat at this stage of the UEFA Champions League after wins in 2005/06, 2011/12 and 2015/16.

• This season's play-off first-leg win against PSV was Benfica's seventh in their last eight games at home to Dutch visitors, the exception that 2018 draw against Ajax. They have lost only twice against Eredivisie clubs in Lisbon, winning nine of those 13 matches.

• That 2018 defeat at Ajax is Benfica's only loss in their last 15 matches against Dutch clubs (W8 D6) since their defeat on penalties to PSV in the 1988 European Cup final.

• Benfica's aggregate record in two-legged knockout ties against Dutch clubs is W7 L3, this season's success against PSV making it five wins in a row.

2018/19 highlights: Ajax 1-0 Benfica

• The Amsterdam club kicked off this season's European campaign with a 5-1 win at Benfica's city rivals Sporting on Matchday 1, Sébastien Haller marking his UEFA Champions League debut with four goals – the first player to achieve that feat on his first competition appearance since Marco van Basten in 1992.

• Ajax concluded their campaign with a 4-2 win at home to Sporting, making it six wins out of six in Group E having also beaten Beşiktaş and Borussia Dortmund home and away. As well as Liverpool and Bayern this season, AC Milan (1992/93), Paris Saint-Germain (1994/95), Spartak Moskva (1995/96), Barcelona (2002/03), Real Madrid (2011/12, 2014/15) and Bayern (2019/20) all previously recorded six wins from six in a UEFA Champions League group stage, although only Bayern went on to lift the trophy.

• Haller is the top scorer in this season's competition on ten goals, one more than Robert Lewandowski, and is only the second player to register in all six group games after Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo in 2017/18.

• This season was Ajax's 17th appearance in the group stage, setting a new Dutch record – they were previously level with PSV on 16. It is their fourth straight appearance in the UEFA Champions League proper, and the second season running they have gained automatic qualification having not previously achieved it since 2014/15.

• Ajax were Dutch champions for the 35th time in 2020/21 – their second league championship in a row having also triumphed in 2018/19 with no title awarded in 2019/20 – and also lifted the Dutch Cup to claim their ninth domestic double.

• The Amsterdam club were third in their section for the second year running in 2020/21, finishing behind Liverpool and Atalanta in Group D with six of their seven points coming from their two games against Danish side Midtjylland (2-1 a, 3-1 h).

• Ajax subsequently moved into the UEFA Europa League, beating LOSC Lille 2-1 away and at home in the round of 32 before easing past Young Boys in the last 16 (3-0 h, 2-0 a) only to be eliminated in the quarter-finals by Roma (1-2 h, 1-1 a).

• A 1-0 loss at Liverpool on Matchday 5 last season is Ajax's only defeat in 15 away matches in the UEFA Champions League (W10 D4). Including the competition's qualifying phase, it is one loss in 21 matches on the road (W11 D9).

• Ajax have qualified from their UEFA Champions League group for only the second time in their last nine appearances in the competition. This is the first time they have won their group since 1995/96 when, as holders, they went on to reach the final.

• Ajax beat Real Madrid in their last round of 16 tie, in 2018/19, recovering from a 2-1 defeat in the home first leg with a 4-1 victory in Spain. That was only their second tie at this stage of the UEFA Champions League; in 2005/06 they lost 3-2 on aggregate to Inter (2-2 h, 0-1 a).

• The Dutch club's wins against Sporting in this season's group stage made it four games without defeat against Portuguese opponents (W3 D1) since a 3-0 loss at Porto in the 1998/99 UEFA Champions League group stage.

• The Matchday 1 success at Sporting was only Ajax's third win in Portugal in their ninth game (D2 L4); those four defeats have come in their last seven matches in the country.

• Ajax's record in two-legged knockout ties against Portuguese teams is W3 L3; this is their first such contest since a 5-1 aggregate defeat of Vitória SC in the 1992/93 UEFA Cup second round (3-0 a, 2-1 h).

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Links and trivia

• Benfica central defender Jan Vertonghen was an Ajax player between 2006 and 2012, scoring 28 goals in 220 games in all competitions. He won two Eredivisie titles and two Dutch Cups in Amsterdam and was named the Netherlands' footballer of the year in 2012.

• Maarten Stekelenburg was Vertonghen's team-mate at Ajax between 2006 and 2011.

• Vertonghen started both legs as Tottenham beat Ajax on away goals in the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League semi-finals.

• Ajax's Zakaria Labyad played for Sporting in 2012/13. He did not face the Eagles with Sporting but took them on twice with PSV, scoring the Dutch team's only goal in the 2010/11 UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg (1-4).

• Have also played together:
Morato & Antony (São Paulo 2019)
Soualiho Meïté & Sébastien Haller (Auxerre 2007–13)

• International team-mates:
Mile Svilar, Nemanja Radonjić & Dušan Tadić (Serbia)
Nicolás Otamendi & Nicolás Tagliafico, Lisandro Martínez (Argentina)
Everton & Antony (Brazil)
Adel Taarabt & Noussair Mazraoui, Zakaria Labyad (Morocco)

• Tadić scored Serbia's equaliser in a 2-1 victory against Portugal at the Estádio do SL Benfica in 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying on 14 November 2021, a result that confirmed the visitors' place in the tournament at Portugal's expense. Radonjić was a second-half replacement for Serbia.

• Half-time substitute Radonjić set up both of Serbia's goals in a 2-2 draw at home to Portugal on 27 March 2021.

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