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Zozulya strikes as Dnipro overcome Ajax

FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk 1-0 AFC Ajax
Roman Zozulya's strike gave the Ukrainian side a vital win against the Dutch champions in their first ever round of 16 tie in this competition.

Dnipro celebrate Roman Zozulya's first-half strike
Dnipro celebrate Roman Zozulya's first-half strike ©AFP/Getty Images

Roman Zozulya with decisive first-half strike for Dnipro
Ukrainian side record third consecutive home success in competition
Result ends Ajax's three-game winning run in Europe
Dnipro unbeaten in four in continental competition
• The second leg is next Thursday in the Netherlands, with the quarter-final draw the following day

Roman Zozulya's first-half strike earned FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk a narrow but potentially crucial first-leg victory against AFC Ajax at the NSK Olimpiyskyi Stadium in Kyiv.

Although Dnipro started brightly, the first chance went the way of the visitors after just four minutes as home goalkeeper Denys Boyko saved a dinked effort from Ajax midfielder Thulani Serero. It was to prove a rare opening for the Dutch side, however, and Myron Markevych's charges responded through Roman Bezus and Zozulya, who both fired wide but set the tone for a first half dominated by the hosts.

Barely ten minutes had elapsed when Yevhen Seleznyov squandered a glorious opportunity after Ajax custodian Jasper Cillessen had failed to control a back pass. The Dnipro No11 could not hit the target, yet the hosts were eventually rewarded for their positive start when Zozulya sent a left-footed strike across Cillessen on the half-hour.

Seeking to maintain their seven-game unbeaten run in all competitions, Ajax almost equalised in first-half added time, only for Joël Veltman to spurn a superb chance to level. All alone at the back post, the centre-back blasted over following Davy Klaassen's flick-on.

Frank de Boer's men, who have not reached the quarter-finals of this competition since 1997/98, improved after the break following the introduction of winger Ricardo Kishna. Yet again, though, it was the Dnipryani who came closest to finding the net, Cillessen producing a superb instinctive save to keep out Zozulya's goalbound effort.

The last remaining domestic champions in the competition found their Ukrainian opponents hard to break down in the closing stages – failing to add to their single attempt on target – and Dnipro held firm to mark their first fixture at this juncture with a vital victory.