Football

Ajax confident of progress despite 1-1 draw

Young, talented Dutch side hoping to pull off another Real miracle at Juventus

Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo scored against Ajax Amsterdam on his return from injury yesterday morning (Singapore time) , but sharing the spotlight was the hosts' forward David Neres, who fired in a brilliant equaliser in their 1-1 draw.

Cutting in from the left, the 22-year-old Brazilian curled a superb effort past Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny 30 seconds after the restart to send the crowd at the Johan Cruyff Arena into a frenzy.

Aptly, his strike came as the home fans were still singing their adopted anthem, Bob Marley's Three Little Birds, reminding their team that "every little thing's gonna be all right", reported AFP.

His goal has given the Dutch side hope that they can pull off another miracle, following their 4-1 away win over Real Madrid in the second leg of their last-16 clash last month.

"A 1-1 draw in a home game is not what we were hoping for, but it is still a good result," said Ajax coach Erik ten Hag.

"The last time we lost 2-1 at home to Real, so everything is still alive for us."

Captain Matthijs de Ligt added: "We have a team with much potential and we are showing that in the Champions League. It's not for nothing we have made it to the quarter-finals. In the return, we'll have to give everything because Juventus are incredibly difficult."

As they showed at the Bernabeu last month, this young Ajax side are capable of causing more problems for the giants. Not surprisingly, many of them have been linked with the big clubs.

Neres is reportedly being tracked by Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund and Everton.

De Ligt, 21, was advised by former Holland and Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal to join Juventus or Manchester City, telling Ziggo Sport that Pep Guardiola's side "have central defenders who are not too good".

Midfielder Frenkie de Jong, singled out by Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri as Ajax's heartbeat, will be joining Barcelona on a five-year contract.

The Dutchman, 21, showed just why by being omnipresent against Juventus - collecting loose balls at one end and creating openings at the other.

In the process, he touched the ball 117 times, equalling a Champions League record that his future Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets set against Inter Milan in 2010, reported Opta stats.

"He is the real source of their game," said Allegri.

"We tried to control him with (Rodrigo) Bentancur in the early stages but, when he understood that, he moved deeper, and the forwards had to work hard on him. He played very well."

Juventus could have won the match as substitute Douglas Costa struck a post late.

If Ajax are to pull off another upset, they will have to do it without defender Nicolas Tagliafico, who is suspended after picking up a yellow card.


AJAX:

Onana, Veltman, de Ligt, Blind, Tagliafico, Schone (Ekkelenkamp 75), de Jong, Ziyech, van den Beek, Neres, Tadic

JUVENTUS:

Szczesny, Cancelo, Bonucci, Rugani, Sandro, Bentancur, Pjanic, Matuidi (Dybala 75), Bernardeschi (Khedira 90), Mandzukic (Costa 60), Ronaldo

Football