Chelsea through despite Basel loss
Ajax gave their chances of qualifying for the Champions League last 16 a huge boost as they beat Barcelona 2-1 on Tuesday despite playing almost the entire second-half with 10 men.
First-half goals from Thulani Serero and Danny Hoesen had the hosts well in command at the break.
However, Barca were back in the game minutes after the restart as Joel Veltman was sent off for bringing down Neymar inside the area and Xavi converted the resulting spot-kick.
Barca then pressed for an equaliser, but failed to breakdown a stubborn Ajax backline as they slipped to a first defeat in any competition this season.
AC Milan’s 3-0 win away to Celtic in the other game in Group H means the Dutch side remain third, a point behind Milan, and will need to win in Italy when the two sides meet in two weeks’ time to progress.
Ajax boss Frank de Boer argued the result had more to do with his side’s style of play than Barca having an off day.
“We played a good match. They are not used to being under so much pressure as we created in the first-half, nor a team that builds from the back,” he said.
“We deserved to be 2-0 ahead at half-time. The (penalty) decision was key because it is a red card and a goal, but we fought hard.”
Despite injuries to a series of key players, including Lionel Messi, and having already qualified for the knockout stages, Barca boss Gerardo Martino still named a strong side.
However, the Catalans were forced back from the off by a young Ajax side full of energy and quality on the ball.
Jose Manuel Pinto got down well to his left to save Viktor Fischer’s effort after 11 minutes, but there was nothing the stand-in ‘keeper could do to prevent Serero opening the scoring eight minutes later as he turned home Ricardo Van Rhijn’s low cross.
Pinto again did well to parry Fischer’s first effort, but Hoesen reacted quicker than the statuesque Pique and Carles Puyol to double the Dutch champions’ advantage.
Barca were handed a lifeline just two minutes after the restart when Veltman brought down Neymar just inside the area and was sent off for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Xavi took responsibility from the spot in Messi’s absence and sent Jasper Cillessen the wrong way. But they failed to create another clear chance in front of goal as Martino tasted defeat for the first time in 21 games since taking charge in July.
Chelsea reached the last 16 of the Champions League despite going down to a 1-0 defeat to Basel in Switzerland on Tuesday, Mohamed Salah scoring the only goal with just three minutes remaining.
Salah latched on to a long ball forward by Fabian Schaer and outpaced Branislav Ivanovic as he cut in from the left before finishing past Petr Cech to hand the hosts a thoroughly deserved victory and keep their hopes of joining Chelsea in the last 16 alive heading into the final round of matches.
It was Basel’s second win against the Premier League club in this season’s competition and propelled them into second place in the group above Schalke 04.
Mourinho had made just one change to his side, with Willian taking the place of Eden Hazard, who dropped to the bench alongside the fit-again Fernando Torres. That meant that Cesar Azpilicueta again started at left-back with Ashley Cole also only a substitute.
And Mourinho’s decision not to rotate his squad meant they also lacked freshness, as the Blues produced a lacklustre performance in a game played in sub-zero temperatures.
That was reflected in the statistics, with Basel having more of the possession and all the chances in what was an oustanding first-half showing in particular.
There was a feeling that Chelsea had been let off the hook as they went in at the interval on level terms, and their defence was rarely troubled after the restart.
They also looked brighter going forward once Hazard had come on in place of the ineffective Oscar.
And Basel finally got the breakthrough they merited with three minutes left when Salah - who scored in their 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge - sent the St Jakob-Park crowd into raptures.AFP
We played a good match. They are not used to being under so much pressure as we created in the first-half, nor a team that builds from the back.