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The road to the UEFA Europa League final: Ajax

On Wednesday 24th May 2017 at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, Ajax and Manchester United will go head to head to contest the UEFA Europa League trophy. Both teams have come a long way in the competition this season, doing what they needed to do in order to reach the final. It will be a contest between two great sides with an immense history of developing youth, winning titles, in both domestic and European competition. It will be a match where both Jose Mourinho and Peter Bosz will want to win, as will the players in both teams. It will be a match which could cost United massively as a place in the UEFA Champions League is needed to keep sponsorship revenue from adidas at they levels they currently stand at. Ajax have already reached the third qualifying round of the elite European competition next season, so losing the match will not be so costly to them, other than not lifting the trophy at the end of the match. This is a match both sets of supporters have been waiting around a fortnight for. This is how Ajax got to the final of the UEFA Europa League this season.

UEFA Champions League qualifying

Ajax started the season in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League where they were drawn against PAOK. The first leg on the 26th July 2016 in Amsterdam was a 1-1 draw between the two sides with Djalma Campos opening the scoring in the 27th minute of the match and Kasper Dolberg equalising for Ajax in the 58th minute of the match. The second leg was played o the 3rd August 2016 in Salonika, Greece with Ajax winning 2-1. PAOK had scored in the fourth minute through Stefanos Athanasiadis with Davy Klaassen scoring a brace; a 45+1 minute penalty and a winner in the 88th minute of the match. This put Ajax through 3-2 on aggregate into the play-off round of qualifying. Ajax were drawn against FC Rostov, a team United beat on their way to the final. In Amsterdam, it was a 1-1 draw again with Christian Noboa scoring the opening goal in the 13th minute of the match, with Klaassen equalising, through a penalty, in the 38th minute of the match. The second leg played in Rostov-on-Don, Russia saw Ajax defeated 4-1 and Klaassen scoring the Dutch side’s only goal and being eliminated from the elite European competition.

UEFA Europa League Group Stage

Ajax were drawn in their group with Spanish side Celta Vigo (a team United also knocked out on their way to the final), Belgian side Standard Liège and Greek side Panathinaikos. Ajax won the group with Celta Vigo coming second, both advancing to the knockout round of 32 in the competition. Ajax’s first match was away against Panathinaikos, winning 2-1 with goals from Bertrand Traoré and Jaïro Riedewald securing the victory but the match also saw Hakim Ziyech earn a second yellow card which saw him sent off, missing the next match. The second group stage match was played in Amsterdam, a 1-0 victory over Standard Liège which saw the only goal of the game being scored by Dolberg. Ajax had a good start in the tournament earning six points from their first two matches. The third match which was played in Balaídos against Celta Vigo would be a shock for the team looking to blitz their group, earning a 2-2 draw with Ajax taking the lead twice through Ziyech 22′ and Amin Younes 71′. The Spanish side equalised on the 29th and 82nd minutes, meaning Ajax only achieved a point from this match.

The fourth match in the group was the reverse fixture of the third match, played in Amsterdam. Ajax won 3-2 with goals from Dolberg 41′ Ziyech 67′ and Younes 71′. Celta Vigo scored twice in the last eleven minutes of the match through John Guidetti (79′) and Iago Aspas (86′) but it was not enough to get anything from the match. After playing four times, Ajax has won three and drawn once meaning they had 10 points in the group and were sure to make the knockout stages. The fifth match, again played in Amsterdam, was against Panathinaikos and was a 2-0 victory for the home side. Lasse Shöne and Kenny Tete scored the goals in that match, putting Ajax in an even greater position in the group with one match to go. Played in Liége, Belgium, Ajax only managed a 1-1 draw with Standard Liége with Anwar El Ghazi opening the scoring in the 27th minute. The home side, needing a victory (by two goals or more) to reach the knockout stages, equalised through Benito Raman in the 85th minute of the match, but could not do enough to get a victory. Ajax made the round of 32.

UEFA Europa League – Round of 32

The Dutch side were drawn against Polish side Legia Warsaw with the first leg being played away from home. It was a 0-0 draw which saw Tete earn a second yellow card, therefore missing the home leg of the tie. Ajax failed to get an away goal, which could have been costly to their chances of making it to the next round of the tournament. A week later in Amsterdam, Ajax won 1-0 with  Nick Viergever scoring the only goal of the match in the 49th minute. Ajax had done all they needed to do, scoring the only goal of both legs and earning a round of 16 place in the tournament.

UEFA Europa League – Round of 16

After beating the Polish side, Ajax were drawn against Danish side Copenhagen, the first leg being played in Denmark. Ajax were defeated 2-1 with Dolberg equalising in the 32nd minute after Rasmus Falk opened the scoring in the first minute of the match. Andreas Cornelius won the game for his side in the 60th minute of the match, giving them a good chance or earning a quarter-final place. Ajax did get an away goal, which gave them a chance in the second leg. In Amsterdam, Ajax won 2-0 (3-2 on aggregate) with a 23rd-minute opening goal from Traoré and a 45+2 minute penalty from Dolberg, seeing the Dutch side into the quarter-finals of the Europa league.

UEFA Europa League – Quarter-finals

German side Schalke 04 were the side Ajax needed to better to reach the semi-finals. The first leg was played in Amsterdam with Ajax winning 2-0 with both goals scored by Klaassen; a 23rd-minute penalty and 52nd-minute doubler. That was all Ajax needed to put one foot into the semi-finals. The reverse leg in Gelsenkirchen, Germany was a different affair with Schalke looking to spoil Ajax’s pass through to the semi-final with a 2-0 victory after 90 minutes; a 2-2 draw on aggregate. Leon Goretzka opened the scoring in the 53rd minute with Guido Burgstaller doubling the lead three minutes later. Joël Veltman earned a second yellow card and was sent off in the 80th minute of the match. The match went into extra time and Schalke scored a third in the 101st minute through Daniel Caliguiri, but that was where Ajax got themselves back into the game with an exit on the cards. Viergever got one back for the Dutch side in the 111th minute, level on aggregate (3-3) and winning on away goals. Younes scored dead on the 120th-minute meaning Ajax has lost 3-2 on the evening, winning 4-3 on aggregate and advancing to the semi-finals.

UEFA Europa League – Semi-finals

Ajax were drawn against French side Lyon with the first leg played in Amsterdam with Ajax running riot winning 4-1. Traoré scored a brace (25′ and 71′) with Dolberg (34′) and Younes (49′) completing the scoring for the Dutch side. Lyon got one back at 3-0 down through Mathieu Valbuena in the 66th minute, but it was not enough to get anything from the game, other than an away goal, of course. The second leg, played in France was similar to the last round, showing Ajax’s frailty. Ajax opened the scoring through Dolberg but Lyon scored twice through Alexandre Lacazette with a 45th-minute penalty and a 45+1′ doubler. Lyon went 3-1 up (4-5 aggregate) in the 81st minute through Rachid Ghezzal, needing another to take it to extra time, falling short of the mark. Viergever earned a second yellow card in the 84th minute and was sent off, meaning he will miss the final against Manchester United.

History

Ajax are a very successful team, both domestic and European. The side have won the Eredivisie 33 times in their history, the last in 2014, also lifting the KNVB Cup 18 times, the last in 2010. In addition to their domestic success, Ajax have done very well in Europe. The European Cup has been lifted by the club four times; 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1995. They also appeared in two other finals; 1969 and 1996 – losing both matches. Ajax won the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup in 1987, also reaching the final in 1988 – losing that also. The Dutch side won the UEFA Cup (now the Europa league) in 1992, also winning the UEFA Super Cup twice; 1973 and 1995, also reaching the final in 1987 and losing. Ajax lifted the EUSA Cup (European/South American Cup) twice in 1972 and 1995. Ten major European trophies and 51 domestic trophies mean that Ajax are no stranger to success and looking for another trophy to add to their incredible haul.

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