AMSTERDAM (AP) — Substitute Luis Muriel put Atalanta into the knockout stage of the Champions League on Wednesday, scoring in the 85th minute to secure a 1-0 win over 10-man Ajax and clinch second place in Group D.
As Ajax pressed forward in search of the victory it needed to progress, Remo Freuler won the ball in midfield and quickly passed to Muriel who rounded goalkeeper André Onana and slid the ball into the net.
The goal came shortly after teenage midfielder Ryan Gravenberch was sent off following a second booking.
Atalanta finished two points behind Liverpool in Group D. The English champion was already assured of top spot before it was held to a 1-1 draw at Midtjylland. Ajax finished third in the group and has to settle for a Europa League spot.
Atalanta surprisingly reached the quarterfinals in its debut campaign last season. But after beating Liverpool and now Ajax in their own stadiums, coach Gian Piero Gasprini said his team has been even more impressive this time around.
“It’s an extraordinary achievement, better than last year’s because there were two legendary teams in our group,” Gasperini said. “We’ve shown that we can win anywhere in Europe.”
An injury-hit Ajax, missing Daley Blind, David Neres and Lassina Traore, had the best of the possession for most of the match but lacked attacking flair and could not break down the well-organized Atalanta defense.
Atalanta only needed a draw to reach the round of 16 again and had the first real chance of the match in the 20th minute but Marten de Roon shot wide following a well-worked team move.
It wasn’t until first-half stoppage time that Ajax forced Atalanta’s goalkeeper into action, with 18-year-old Brian Brobbey heading straight at Pierluigi Gollini after good work on the right flank by Antony.
Atalanta were more dangerous after the break, with Noussair Mazraoui blocking a shot by Matteo Pessina in the 66th as gaps opened in the Ajax defense.
Looking for more attacking options, Ajax coach Erik ten Hag brought on veteran striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar in place of defender Nicolás Tagliafico in the 63rd minute but it failed to produce a goal.
Midfielder Davy Klaassen squandered the best Ajax chance, shooting too close to Gollini, who saved well with an outstretched foot in the 75th minute.
“You don’t get many chances and you have to convert the chances you get,” Klaassen said. “They defended very compact and we created too little.”
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