Atalanta Beat Ajax To Reach Champions League Last 16
Atalanta secured a return to the Champions League knockout stages on Wednesday following a 1-0 win at Ajax that sent the Italians through as Group D runners-up behind Liverpool.
Substitute Luis Muriel struck the decisive goal five minutes from time, shortly after the dismissal of Ajax midfielder Ryan Gravenberch in Amsterdam, as Atalanta won their fifth successive away game in the competition.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s side had required just a point in their final game to edge Ajax to second place.
They were just minutes away from reaching last season’s semi-finals on their Champions League debut before conceding two late goals to Paris Saint-Germain in the ‘Final Eight’ in Lisbon.
“Reaching the round of 16 again is an extraordinary achievement. This season even more than last year, because Liverpool and Ajax are two traditionally huge teams,” Gasperini told Sky Sport Italia.
“Defensively we did really well. Then we tried our best on the break, and got that goal in the final minutes – deserved in my opinion.”
Four-time winners Ajax have now failed to progress from the group stage for the seventh time in their past eight appearances, and will drop into the last 32 of the Europa League.
Eighteen-year-old forward Brian Brobbey made his Champions League debut for Ajax, replacing the injured Lassina Traore in an attack also missing David Neres.
Atalanta, whose Serie A game at Udinese at the weekend was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, left Josip Ilicic, their leading scorer during their run to the 2019-20 quarter-finals, on the bench.
Dutch midfielder Marten de Roon sliced wide for Atalanta from 20 yards following a Duvan Zapata lay-off in a cautious first half, with Brobbey removed at the break following an accidental collision with team-mate Nicolas Tagliafico.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar had a penalty appeal dismissed after he was barged by Remo Freuler before Davy Klaassen drilled at the legs of Atalanta goalkeeper Pierliugi Gollini following a subtle flick from Jurgen Ekkelenkamp.
Teenager Gravenberch was sent off 10 minutes from time for a second yellow after catching Atalanta captain Papu Gomez with his trailing arm, and Muriel promptly delivered the fatal blow as he ran onto Freuler’s pass and rounded Andre Onana before slotting home.