Football

Ajax goalkeeper Onana: We can beat anyone

Despite an average age of under 22, Ajax goalkeeper Onana believes his side can 'beat anyone'

It was a performance worthy of the club's illustrious past.

Dutch team Ajax Amsterdam crushed French side Lyon 4-1 at the Amsterdam ArenA yesterday morning (Singapore time) to move to the brink of their first European final since 1996.

Bertrand Traore led the way with two goals in an enthralling, end-to-end Europa League semi-final, first-leg tie in which Ajax fielded a starting line-up with an average age of under 22 years old.

Danish teenager Kasper Dolberg and Amin Younes also netted for Ajax while Mathieu Valbuena replied for the French visitors, who could easily have scored three or four goals themselves.

Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana believes that his team can beat anyone if they reproduce yesterday morning's performance.

Onana, who made a number of crucial saves to help keep the hosts in control of the tie, lavished praise on his teammates, but also issued a note of caution.

"The chance (of reaching the final) is 50/50. What we have to do is play like we did." the 21-year-old Cameroon goalkeeper told Ajax TV.

"Lyon have good players but, what I know is if we play like we did, we can beat anyone.

"We played very well, if we keep playing like this, we can beat anyone 4-1 or even more."

Four-time European champions Ajax were once one of Europe's biggest clubs but are no longer able to compete financially with teams from England, Spain and Germany.

Their last European final appearance was in the Champions League in 1996, when they lost to Juventus on penalties.

Despite the Dutch side's handsome win, it was Lyon who started the brighter, with star striker Alexandre Lacazette saying: "This game is frustrating because we put them in trouble early in the game."

Ajax took the lead on 25 minutes when Hakim Ziyech's inswinging free-kick was probably destined for the far corner, but Traore got the faintest of touches to head the ball in from eight metres.

That lead was doubled on 34 minutes when 19-year-old Dolberg darted between a static Lyon defence to collect Traore's header and lash home his fifth Europa League goal of the season.

Younes added a third four minutes after the break by converting the impressive Ziyech's pass with a deflected shot which crept past Anthony Lopes and over the line.

Valbuena struck precisely past Onana from 15 metres on 66 minutes before the Ajax shot-stopper saved well from Nabil Fekir as Lyon smelled blood.

"It was very important. I know if Lyon score two goals here, it will be difficult for us to play them away. I was a little bit lucky," said Onana.

There was no luck about Traore's second of the evening, and Ajax's fourth, as the 21-year-old Burkina Faso international converted another fantastic Ziyech cross on 71 minutes.

Ajax coach Peter Bosz knows his team are well placed to reach a first European final in 21 years, but is wary of Lyon ahead of next week's return leg.

"We are in a great position, but the first 20 minutes - in which we played poorly - have taught us that we're definitely not there yet," he said.

"We'll need to give another top performance in Lyon in order to reach the final."

Lyon boss Bruno Genesio is refusing to give up hope of overturning the deficit at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais next week in order to reach the final against either Celta Vigo or Manchester United in Stockholm.

"We must believe," Genesio told French newspaper L'Equipe. "We must digest this defeat.

"It must be believed that the feat is still possible."

Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes added: "It's a disaster. We had impetus at the beginning of the match but it passed...

"There are reasons for hope. It's 90 minutes and we're going to have to go for 3-0 or 4-1.

"We must try to digest this disappointment first."

- WIRE SERVICES

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