Ajax produced a stunning victory over Barcelona to keep their chances alive of making the Champions League knockout phase. First-half goals from Thulani Serero and Danny Hoesen were enough to defeat an already qualified Barcelona, despite Xavi’s penalty early in the second half following Joel Veltman’s sending off.
The result leaves Ajax a point behind Milan, who won the night’s other Group H contest against Celtic, heading into the final round of matches. The Dutch champions now have to beat the Italian giants in Milan to make it through to the last 16. Barcelona, meanwhile, need to beat Celtic at home to guarantee that they take top spot in the group and, in theory, a lesser opponent in the first knockout round.
Barcelona were missing several players through injury, including Lionel Messi and goalkeeper Victor Valdes, while Carles Puyol was forced to play at full-back due to the absence of Dani Alves, Adriano and Jordi Alba. With Sergio Busquets only starting on the bench, Ajax took full advantage of their weakened visitors to avenge their 4-0 loss at the Camp Nou in September.
Barcelona’s defense went missing as Ajax took the lead in the 19th minute. Right-back Ricardo van Rhijn got forward and put in a low cross that ran all the way through for Serero to finish past Barcelona backup keeper Jose Manuel Pinto from 10 yards.
And Ajax were in dreamland three minutes before half time when their lead was doubled. Young forward Viktor Fischer had his shot from the edge of the box parried straight back into the danger zone by Pinto and Hoesen reacted well to create a shooting opportunity and find the net.
Proceedings took a dramatic turn just three minutes into the second half. Van Rhijn’s slack back pass put Neymar away and Veltman brought the Brazilian down to concede a penalty and mean he was shown his marching orders. Xavi sent Jasper Cillessen the wrong way from the spot to reduce Barcelona’s deficit and put all the momentum in their favor heading into the final 40 minutes.
To much surprise, though, Barcelona were unable to find a breakthrough as Ajax impressively held on to at least secure a Europe League place and perhaps much more.