On a lovely sunny Wednesday, Juvenil welcomed Jong Ajax at Alfredo di Stefano Stadium. Jong Ajax didn't participate in the group stages, because Ajax (first team) didn't make it to UCL. However, they were the champions of the Netherlands, so they got there through the playoffs, where they beat PAOK and Juventus, and then in the Round of 16 they beat Dynamo Kiev 3-0. Prior to this match, Ajax conceded only 1 goal and scored 16 goals in 6 matches. And that's not all, they were also on an unbeaten run since April 2016.
Guti's lineup wasn't all that surprising with 1 exception. I think most expected Toni or Mink to play instead of Cobo/Fran, but Guti opted to bolster the left side and go with Cobo and Fran. Fran is a former winger turned left back, so he provided a balanced performance on the left wing.
Sergio Diaz was finally played in his best position, which is slightly behind the striker and not on the left wing, where Solari puts him. Somebody should send tape from this match to Solari ASAP.
Juvenil couldn't have asked for a better start. In the second minute Dani Gomez found himself free inside the penalty box, but when he tried to round the keeper his shot was saved. Two minutes later Achraf found Dani Gomez with an exquisite cross. Dani Gomez was completely unmarked in the box and he had all time in the world to chest it down and calmly strike it. Four minutes in and Juvenil were leading 1-0.
And they didn't stop. Juvenil kept pressuring Ajax, who were only able to relieve the pressure via long balls. Juvenil were picking their defence and midfield apart and Valverde played a huge role in that. He was simply a class above the rest. He was calm on the ball. He doesn't panic when he's being pressed. He can easily dribble his way out of it and then deliver an inch perfect through ball. What a player. Juvenil played nice, quick, one-touch football and Ajax had a hard time keeping the ball for more then a few seconds. But yet again the finishing should've been much better. Sergio Diaz and others had good chances through counter attacks, but they couldn't convert them.
Moha was quite shaky at the start of the game. He almost conceded an own goal, but as the game progressed, he got better and better. I think it's understandable. He is a kid, who last year played with the U16 and now he's playing with the U19 in a big international tournament. All he needs is to play more of these matches and get more experience.
Around the 30th minute mark, Ajax slowly got back in the match. They regained composure in the midfield and occasionally threatened Juvenil.
In the second half Juvenil let Ajax take the initiative and focused on compact defending and quick counterattacks. Guti made his first substitution just after five minutes into the second half — Cobo off and Seoane on. Guti saw that the midfield needed bolstering and opted for Seoane ahead of Martín Calderon.
In the 56th minute Dani Gomez had yet another chance to make it 2-0, but Ajax's keeper produced a great save. And then a few minutes later Alberto was through and hit the bar, and sadly Achraf couldn't score from the rebound. But despite those two chances it was Ajax who had the ball and were controlling the game. And we all know the old saying - “If you miss those chances, you're going to concede”.
Ajax equalized through an absolutely stunning volley from Lang. It surely is the goal of the month. Guti then made a couple more changes -- Mink and Zabarte came on and Sergio Diaz and Oscar came off. Guti then tried to solidify the left side with another defender -- Zabarte.
After the equalizer it was again all about Ajax. Juvenil were under constant pressure and they could only manage to play long balls to Dani Gomez, who was alone up top. But then a miracle happened. Ajax's defender, De Wit, had a moment of madness. I guess he thought he was playing volleyball or he placed a bet on this game, because there is no other logical explanation for his handball. The referee correctly pointed to the spot and Alex calmly converted the penalty. 2-1.
Juvenil won this hard battle and progress into the semifinals, where they will face Benfica. Benfica will be a very tough opponent, they have very strong and pacy players like Monaco. Juvenil met them 2 season ago in the semifinals and lost to them, so I hope that the boys will be extra fired up for this game.
Goals: Dani Gomez, Alex
After the game Guti spoke to the press:
As a coach it was worse than when I played. You suffer a lot on the bench, but you see things much clearer from there than you do from the pitch.
At the end of the match, the team was very tired and we paid for that [the conceded goal]. It's a shame we did not take advantage of the momentum after the first goal. It was a very intense game and there was lot of tension, because it was a quarter-final.
I congratulated my players. They were all very happy and that's what's important to me. Now in the semifinals we will play against Benfica, who is a very strong team, very good physically and very well drilled. They could very well be a first division team, because they have so much quality.