Ajax holds Benfica to 1-1 draw in Champions League
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Goalkeeper Andre Onana made up for his first-half mistake with a crucial last-minute save to help Ajax earn a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Benfica and boost the team's chances of returning to the knockout stage of the Champions League after a 13-year absence.
Onana badly missed the ball after a throw-in in the 29th minute, allowing Benfica forward Jonas to easily open the scoring for the hosts at the Stadium of Light. But the Cameroonian goalkeeper saved the team in the final moments of the match by making a difficult save on a close-range shot by Gabriel. He extended his right foot to keep the ball from goal in for what would have been the winner.
"I made a really big mistake," Onana said. "I made the wrong choices, twice, which led to their goal. But as a goalkeeper you just have to be strong and look forward."
As Benfica players put their hands on their heads in desperation after the final whistle, Ajax players mobbed Onana to celebrate.
"We didn't give Onana a hard time during the break because we're all in this together and support each other," Ajax captain Matthijs de Ligt said. "And let's not forget that he has made fantastic saves during the qualifiers and in the group phase already."
Dusan Tadic had scored a second-half equalizer for Ajax after Benfica goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos was late to get to a long ball into the area. Tadic got past him and just barely redirected the ball into the net from a tough angle.
The draw left Ajax closer to its first appearance in the knockout stage since the 2005-2006 season, when the Dutch club was eliminated by Inter Milan in the round of 16.
With two matches remaining, Ajax maintained a comfortable four-point cushion over Benfica in Group E. It has eight points, two points fewer than leader Bayern Munich, which defeated AEK Athens 2-0 at home.
Benfica's fourth straight game without a win in all competitions.
"What was missing is what has been missing in our past matches: scoring goals," Benfica defender Alex Grimaldo said.
On Nov. 27, Benfica visits Bayern Munich, while Ajax plays at AEK Athens.
A win will be enough for Ajax to secure a spot in the next round.