Soccer

Ajax stuns Juventus to reach Champions League semifinals

AP

Cristiano Ronaldo shook his head as he walked off the field, while the Ajax players and staff celebrated with their fans long after the final whistle.

The youth-filled Ajax team knocked off another one of Europe’s giants on Tuesday, beating Juventus 2-1 in Turin to reach the Champions League semifinals for the first time since 1997. It is the first time since 2010 that Ronaldo has failed to reach the last four, having won the competition the last three years in a row with Madrid.

“He’s disappointed as we all are, but we can’t be dragged down by this disappointment,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said.

Juventus signed Ronaldo in the offseason in the hope of ending a 23-year wait for the Champions League but one goal from the Portugal star wasn’t enough against the Dutch team, which erased a first-half deficit and largely dominated the final 45 minutes.

“Cristiano increased our chances of winning the Champions League but football isn’t math,” Allegri added. “It’s not one plus one equals two, but one plus one can equal three, four, zero.”

Having already seen off Real Madrid in the previous round, Ajax showed no fear against Ronaldo and the Italian giant either, advancing 3-2 on aggregate.

“It’s an unforgettable night for Ajax, we eliminated one of the favorites for the competition,” Ajax coach Erik ten Hag said. “We played with confidence and patience. With our footballing philosophy we can go beyond expectation, we have once again surpassed our limits. It’s very difficult to play against us and our philosophy.”

Even going behind to a goal from Ronaldo in the first half didn’t faze Ajax’s young players as Donny van de Beek leveled shortly after and 19-year-old captain Matthijs de Ligt scored the winner in the second half.

Ajax will play either Manchester City or Tottenham in the semifinals.

Barcelona 3, Manchester United 0

At Camp Nou, Lionel Messi scored two early goals to send Barcelona into the Champions League semifinals for the first time in four seasons with a comfortable win over Manchester United on Tuesday.

After Barcelona withstood some early pressure from United, Messi ended any hopes of a comeback for the Premier League side as the host advanced 4-0 on aggregate.

Messi opened the scoring with a brilliant solo effort in the 16th minute after he won possession of the ball, ghosted past a defender, and curled a shot into the far corner.

The second came just four minutes later, although Messi was helped by a massive error by David de Gea that time. The Argentina forward only managed a tame shot on goal but the Spain goalkeeper let it slip underneath him and into the net.

Philippe Coutinho added a third goal with a superb curling strike from long range in the 61st to cap arguably the best performance by the former Liverpool player since joining Barcelona just over a year ago.

“The image (we gave) was spectacular. This is who we are,” Messi said. “I was fortunate the first went in, I struck it hard and just inside the post. I needed a little more luck on the second. The important thing is that we achieved our goal. We have taken one more step (to the title).”

Twenty years ago at Barcelona’s stadium, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer completed one of the most memorable comebacks in soccer history when he scored the English team’s second injury-time goal to stun Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final.

But after a promising start when Marcus Rashford hit the crossbar, Messi showed that sentimental memories mean very little when he is playing at his best.

“Messi and Cristiano (Ronaldo) have been the best players in the world for the past decade,” Solskjaer said. “And he showed why we think that and why he has won so many titles. If you give him space and timing around the goal he will create chances and score.”