Roma put a foot and a half in the semifinals of the Europa League when they came back in the second half, with goals from Lorenzo Pellegrini and Roger Ibáñez, an adverse result against Ajax that missed a decisive penalty when they were winning.
Paulo Fonseca’s team, the only Italian alive in European competition, made a splash in Amsterdam. After a gloomy first half and with Edin Dzeko lacking in aim, he resolved the match with two set pieces.
In the Dutch goal, Kjell Scherpen had a European competition debut to forget. The goalkeeper of the Netherlands Under-21 team started due to the absence of Maarten Stekelenburg, who did not recover in time from an injury suffered last Sunday, and a serious error by the young goalkeeper caused Pellegrini a free-kick.
Ajax coach Erik ten Hag raised his usual 4-3-3, with Lisandro Martínez as central, Nicolás Tagliafico as left back and Edson Álvarez in the defensive midfielder position. On the other side, Fonseca drew a 3-5-2-1 with Pedro in attack, although the former Barcelona player was missing. The Murcian Gonzalo Villar and the forward Borja Mayoral, on loan from Real Madrid, came out in the final minutes with no margin to prove their worth.
In the first half, the most overwhelming of Roma until his injury in the 29th minute was Leonardo Spinazzola, as he created the best chances of his team on the left wing against a Devyne Rensch who was not able to stop him.
The side of the Italian team was always looking for the connection with Edin Dzeco. In the first, the Bosnian did not arrive. In the second, Tagliafico stole the attacker’s wallet at the last moment, clearing the ball with his head. In the next one, the connection was finally made, but Dzeco pulled too loosely.
Defender Bruno Peres was providential cutting off several Ajax attacks from the inside. One of the best chances for the locals in the first half was in minute 32, when Antony dos Santos left a good ball for Tadic and the Serbian, slipping, shot as best he could and was about to surprise.
The game was even when an incomprehensible error by Amadou Diawara brought the goal of the night for Ajax. The Roma midfielder gave a back pass that was a gift for Klaassen, he advanced towards the area, threw the wall with Tadic and the Dutch international finished at pleasure, to the despair of coach Paulo Fonseca.
Ajax were able to increase their lead at the restart. Roger Ibañez made an unnecessary foul on Tadic in the area and the referee signaled a penalty. The Serbian striker executed the maximum penalty through the center, thinking that Pau López would jump to the side, but the Spanish goalkeeper kept the position and cleared it.
The emotional blow for the locals was double, because four minutes later an error by their goalkeeper put the tables on the scoreboard. Lorenzo Pellegrini launched a seemingly easy free kick to block, but Scherpen’s ball slipped from his hands and the ball hit the goal.
Ajax, aware that 1-1 was already a bad result for the second leg, grabbed the ball and went on the attack. Neither Tagliafico, nor Brian Brobbey nor Antony were able to beat López, who amended with his saves some doubts shown in the ball exit.
The game was animated in the final minutes and Roma surprised again with a set piece. Klaassen cleared a corner with his head, Roger Ibañez picked up the rebound with his chest and, without dropping it, shot with his left foot in 87, leaving Ten Hag’s men with no room to react.
The duel between the Dutch and the Italians will be decided next week in Rome, in a match in which Ajax will have to score at least two goals to turn the tie around.