UEFA Europa League Classics: Schalke 3-2 Ajax (aet)

Watch this thrilling 2016/17 UEFA Europa League epic on UEFA.tv – and read this first.

Schalke put in a heroic second-leg performance against Ajax
Schalke put in a heroic second-leg performance against Ajax UEFA

Ajax outclassed Schalke in the first leg of their 2016/17 UEFA Europa League quarter-final, but would not have such an easy time as the tie was settled in Germany.

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Context

First leg highlights: Klaassen double for Ajax
First leg highlights: Klaassen double for Ajax

Davy Klaassen struck twice as Ajax won the first leg 2-0, but Schalke could easily have lost by more, goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann sparing the Gelsenkirchen side a real hammering in Amsterdam – and giving them something to play for in the second leg. Ajax's home performance had been something else, and coach Peter Bosz had no hesitation in fielding the same attack that had shredded Schalke first time round. However, Markus Weinzierl's team were ready to throw caution to the wind.

Key players

• Sead Kolašinac: The German-born Bosnia and Herzegovina international established his reputation as a top-class left-back in a six-year spell at Schalke; his dynamic display against Ajax may have helped persuade Arsenal to sign him in summer 2017.

• Leon Goretzka: A central midfielder with a fierce shot from distance, Goretzka earned comparisons to German greats like Michael Ballack and Lothar Matthäus in his youth. He showed his skills, and a frightening level of commitment, at home against Ajax.

• Amin Younes: Born in Germany, Younes never quite clicked at Mönchengladbach and sought a new start with a move to Ajax in 2015. A dynamic winger, extremely hard to lever off the ball, he would play a significant role in the Schalke decider.

What happened

Highlights: Memorable Germany-Netherlands club clashes
Highlights: Memorable Germany-Netherlands club clashes

Schalke attacked from the off, but if Ajax were relieved to get to half-time at 0-0, their relief was not to last long. Goretzka smashed away Schalke's first on 53 minutes, and Ajax barely had time to compose themselves before it was 2-0, Guido Burgstaller finishing from Sead Kolašinac’s cross. Goretzka was forced off – and later taken to hospital – with a broken jaw, but Schalke took heart after visiting defender Joël Veltman was sent off with ten minutes left.

However, the winner did not come, and weary Schalke were obliged to keep battling into extra time. Daniel Caligiuri's header did eventually make it 3-2 on aggregate, only for Nick Viergever's scrambled effort to put Ajax ahead on away goals. Another goal would still have won it for the Royal Blues, but the final blow was struck by Ajax's Younes at the death. The Schalke fans stayed behind to cheer their side off the pitch regardless.

Reaction

Peter Bosz, Ajax coach: "It was always going to be difficult with ten men after they scored their third goal, but we never gave up."

Amin Younes, Ajax forward: "It's an unbelievable feeling to win and to have scored, particularly against Ralf Fährmann who was so good in the first leg. It will be tough to sleep tonight, that's for sure."

Markus Weinzierl, Schalke coach: "My players gave absolutely everything – they fought, they got the goals they needed, but it just wasn’t enough in the end. I can't fault them. There's not much more to say after a game like this."

Elsewhere that night

'What a game!' - Tolisso reaction to Beşiktaş-Lyon classic
'What a game!' - Tolisso reaction to Beşiktaş-Lyon classic

Celta Vigo completed a 4-3 aggregate win with a 1-1 draw at Genk, but that was the only tie of the night that did not go to extra time. Marcus Rashford's goal sent Manchester United through at the expense of Anderlecht but Lyon had to go all the way against Beşiktaş in another UEFA Europa League Classic. After their 2-1 first-leg lead was cancelled out, the tie was settled in a mammoth shoot-out, OL prevailing 7-6.

Aftermath

Ajax gained a commanding first-leg advantage in their semi-final, but even the 4-1 victory against Lyon was not enough to secure an easy passage to the final. Bosz's side also struck first in France, only for the hosts to score three in reply and almost take the game to extra time. Ajax's reward was a final meeting with Man. United in Solna, Sweden, which José Mourinho's team won 2-0.

Schalke were applauded off the pitch after the Ajax match, but it was not to be a happy season overall, a tenth-placed Bundesliga finish denying them a European place for the next season. They returned to Europe in the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League, making it through the group stage before losing 10-2 on aggregate to Manchester City in the last 16.