On Tuesday, Ajax took a 4-1 lead at Chelsea before the hour. Then it somehow managed to get two red cards within the span of a few seconds and surrender three goals. The Amsterdammers were spared a loss by the video assistant referee, which correctly denied what would have been the goal to make it 5-4 to Chelsea.
Just six months on from disintegrating on the doorstep of the Champions League final, Ajaxs European nightmare repeated itself. Now, with two group stage games to go, Chelsea, Ajax and Valencia are all knotted at seven points when a win would have all but assured Ajaxs place in the knockout stages.
Yet the curious thing is that the various Ajax fan accounts were, in the end, delighted with the point. At least Ajax wasnt left empty-handed again, never mind that it gave away a seemingly insurmountable lead.
Hakim Ziyech (22) and other Ajax stars will probably leave soon. What matters most is that theyre here. (AP)MoreAjax fans were impressed their team had been the better side for an hour and managed to hang on when it was down to nine men. When, in fact, it had even conjured several chances to go ahead on counter-attacks. The referee and his various decisions, not least of them the double-red card, made for an easy scapegoat, a decoy for the frustration and a permission structure to be fine with the spilled points.
And that may seem absurd, to be happy with the point after being ahead 4-1. But then Ajax fans always feel like theyre on borrowed time. That it could all end at any moment, and that extensions to this spell of European relevance are precious and to be cherished.
Because this was how it was supposed to work: Ajax reaches the semifinal of the Champions League for the first time since 1997 and comes within literal seconds of the final. The soccer world takes notice. And the upshot is entirely predictable. Half the team is poached the ensuing summer and the other half would leave the next year. Ajax would be left rebuilding through its academy and young, unknown imports.
Read more Gerard Piqué did not shy away from criticising his sides performance at the Nou Camp. Playing like this its difficult to see us winning the Champions League, he said.
This is how it goes. This is how it always goes. Every so often, every decade or so, Ajax gets its blend of prospects and veterans and manager and system just right, gathers some momentum and breaks through in Europe. And then the fat checkbooks are opened up at the superclubs and its all over. Then follows a few years of false starts, soul-searching and, eventually, another run.
Its the cadence of life as an Ajax fan. Which leaves us – if youll allow me to self-identify in this space once again – with a perpetual and existential dread, even when things are going well.
A few more will leave next summer, surely. Van de Beek was strongly linked to Real Madrid last summer and wont be long for the club. Ziyech has been too good for the Eredivisie for a while now. Thats probably true of a few others as well.
But for now, theyre still here. And the manager behind it all, Erik ten Hag, the heavily accented tactical mastermind from the very Eastern border of the country, just paces from Germany, has stayed as well. When the Bayern Munich job opened up on Sunday, ten Hag was instantly considered a favorite to return – hed been Bayerns reserve team manager for two years from 2013 to 2015. He quickly indicated that he was flattered but wouldnt be leaving in the middle of the season.
Its all temporary. Which is why a point at Chelsea doesnt feel like such a despairing result, even if logic dictates that it should be scant consolation. At least Ajax still matters.
Looked at one way, this season is an even greater achievement for the club than last years implausible push to the brink of the final. Because if Ajax in 2018-2019 proved that it could still compete when soccers economics make it almost impossible, Ajax in 2019-20 has shown that it still has some staying power, even as its lost two generational talents.
This season, Ajax showed that its reincarnation wasnt a fluke. And blowing an enormous lead over Chelsea becomes a lot more tolerable when youre glad to still be there at all.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
On a night of big comebacks in the Champions League, Borussia Dortmund came from two goals down to beat Inter Milan 3-2 Tuesday while Chelsea erased a three-goal deficit to draw 4-4 against nine-man Ajax.
Roger Gonzalez is an award-winning writer based in Virginia that has covered pro soccer from Europes top clubs to Argentinas first division. Roger started out his pro soccer writing career with Goal.com… Full Bio
Napoli fluffed a chance to qualify for the knockout stage after drawing 1-1 home at home to Salzburg, while defending champion Liverpool held on for a 2-1 win against Belgian side Genk at Anfield.
Each team plays the other group members twice in the group stage, with the top two on points advancing to the Round of 16 and the teams finishing third place ending up in the Europa League knockout stage.
Five-time champion Barcelona couldn't score at all, with star striker Lionel Messi hitting the crossbar and having a late shot saved by standout goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar in 0-0 draw with visiting Slavia Prague.
Barcelona remains top of Group F with eight points and Dortmund is only one behind. But Inter has only four and is facing elimination.
While Messi failed to add to his whopping total of 113 goals in Europe's top club competition, Salzburg's 19-year-old rising star Erling Haaland made it seven in four games with an early penalty only for Hirving Lozano to equalize for Napoli just before halftime.
Memphis Depay continued his scoring form as Lyon beat Benfica 3-1 to stay in touch with group rival Leipzig, which tops Group G by two points after winning 2-0 at Zenit St. Petersburg.
Group H is up in the air, with Valencia beating Lille 4-1 to join Ajax and Chelsea on seven points with two rounds remaining.
Chelsea fell behind after two minutes, then trailed 4-1 after 55, yet almost won on a wild night at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea's comeback charge was helped by Ajax — last season's semifinalist — playing the final 20 minutes with nine men after defender Daley Blind and Joel Veltman were sent off in quick succession.
Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham's own goal gave Ajax a second-minute lead before Jorginho equalized with his first of two penalties.
The Reds werent at their best, but a 2-1 win over Genk, combined with Napolis draw, has them in first place with nine points. Jurgen Klopps team has won three in a row in the competition, and it was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who scored the winning goal with this delightful effort in the second half.
Quincy Promes put Ajax in front with a header while another Chelsea own goal — this time by goalkeeper Kepa — and midfielder Donny van de Beek's strike gave Ajax a three-goal cushion.
Roger Gonzalez CBS Sports Writer follow Roger Gonzalez is an award-winning writer based in Virginia that has covered pro soccer from Europes top clubs to Argentinas first division. Roger started out his pro soccer writing career with Goal.com… Full Bio
Defender Cesar Azpilicueta pulled a goal back in the 63rd and Jorginho notched his second penalty in the 71st — awarded in the same sequence that saw both Blind and Veltman handed a second yellow card — to set up a rousing finish.
A loss would have seen Dortmund trail by three points with two games to go and probably force them to get a result at Barcelona to stay alive. Instead, the German side turned the table and put Inter Milan in a tricky situation.
Champions League: Charlie Nicholas predicts Chelsea vs Ajax, Liverpool vs Genk, others
Chelsea even thought it had scored a late winner through Azpilicueta, but the goal was ruled out for a handball by Abraham after a video review.
Valencia won with four goals in the last 25 minutes after trailing to Lille striker Victor Osimhen's 25th-minute strike.
Valencia equalized with a 66th-minute penalty converted by Dani Parejo — Panenka style — and hosts went ahead with an own goal by defender Adama Soumaoro.
As a courtesy, you should see this own goal from Chelseas goalkeeper that saw the ball rock off the post … and then his face.
Kolar kept Barcelona at bay with a string of fine saves, denying Messi with his legs in the 79th having earlier saved from the star forward and also from Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto.
Although Barca extended its record unbeaten streak in Europe's top club competition to 34 consecutive home matches, the Czech side looked sharp on the counterattack and forced eight corners.
A day after turning 21, defender Achraf Hakimi — who is on loan from Real Madrid — scored twice and grabbed Dortmund's winner in the 77th minute after Inter led 2-0 at halftime thanks to goals from Lautaro Martinez and Matias Vecino.
Hakimi kick-started Dortmund's comeback in the 51st minute and Julian Brandt equalized in the 64th.
After scoring twice in a 4-1 win away to Genk two weeks ago, midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored the winner for group leader Liverpool.
Fellow midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum grabbed Liverpool's first goal in the 14th and, after Ally Mbwana Samatta levelled with a header shortly before halftime, Oxlade-Chamberlain struck in the 53rd.
In Italy, Haaland's 23rd goal in 17 competitive matches this season silenced the Napoli crowd. But Lozano then scored his first home goal for Napoli.
Leipzig moved to the verge of qualifying from the group stage for the first time, even with star forward Timo Werner only used as a substitute on a freezing night in St. Petersburg.
Leipzig's breakthrough came on the stroke of halftime when midfielder Diego Demme hammered in a rebound after Marcel Sabitzer's free kick hit the wall. Sabitzer made it 2-0 midway through the second half.
Memphis Depay scored for the fourth straight Champions League game and then went off at halftime with an apparent thigh strain.
The Netherlands forward volleyed home in the 33rd minute from midfielder Houssem Aouar's cross from the left to make it 2-0 after imposing centre half Joachim Andersen netted an early header.
Benfica striker Haris Seferovic pulled a goal back in the 76th, but Lyon substitute Bertrand Traore made sure of the win in the 89th.
To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.
It is a priority for CBC to create a website that is accessible to all Canadians including people with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive challenges.