Nice 1-1 Ajax
July 27, 2017
The tie remains open
At the end of the high quality first leg of the 3rd qualifying round, in which both teams dominated a half each, the Gym and Ajax couldn’t be separated by the score (1-1).
Europe forms a paradox which reveals the strong and sees the week tumble: either you get cold feet as the temperature rises, or it frees up your spirits. The first five minutes of the clash lead to fears that the Aiglons may fall into the first category. Yes, the legendary Ajax, with its 4-3-3 and its philosophy of “total football” engraved into its DNA, marked its entrance into the Allianz by confiscating the ball.
Solid in defensive areas, with Souquet and Sarr, alongside a reassuring Dante-Le Marchand duo, the Gym rode the early waves with character. They got the measure of the game during the first 45 minutes. The possession, first of all was with the Dutch side, then fell in their favour. The little moves did too, as Srarfi (23') replied to Ziyech with some excellent skill. One of the many inspiring moves the small Tunisian playmaker, who after a series of back heels, performed, making the most of his opportunity as he stunned Sanchez to set-up Mario but it fell just short. The youngster added movement and speed to the heart of the game.
Loyal to its principles, the finalist of the Europa League last season continued to improve. A vertigo that would prove to be both its strength and weakness. By looking to attack at all costs, they left spaces in behind them, as was to be expected. As was expected, the Gym would have opportunities to play. In remaining serious and giving away very few opportunities in the first-half (Cardi only needed to box away a strike from Schöne after 30 minutes), the chances came quickly. After a well-initiated move, Koziello tried with his left, but Onana caught well (27'). Immediately after, it was the number 26’s partner who would make the difference. In the 32nd minute, Mr Seri, in a central position, lifted his head, dummied a pass, changed his pace, beat his man and marvellously set-up Super Mario. The Italian international, who you can’t help but feel is made for these star encounters, wouldn’t disappoint and buried the opportunity.
The goal rewarded him for his involvement, his quality with his back to goal, his movement and his technique. At the end of the half, he opened up space in the centre circle, played in Souquet, who pushed on and crossed for Eysseric in the box. The number 13 was knocked off-balance, but the referee saw nothing in it and booked him for simulation. But that couldn’t hold him back, he continued to push and let rip a half-volley just after, which was caught by the Cameroonian keeper (44').
The high level punished every estimation, Ajax got back into the match upon their return from the dressing rooms, as Cardinale punched a Kluivert cross and Van De Beek tucked away, almost surgically (49'). Everything was back at stake, but not in any old way, a second leg awaited the Niçois in a weeks time. A bit shaken by the events, the Gym retreated, as their final line of defence quickly dealt with a strike from Schöne (53'). In the same way as an impeccable Souqet had done, supported defensively by his teammate Pierre Lees-Melou, holding on thanks to their solidarity.
Decisive from the start of the second-half up against Younes, Max Le Marchand kept his side in it after an hour, with a superb tackle in his own box. Then Sanchez stuck the bar with his head (72'), Ziyech hit over (74'). Ajax pushed and pushed. Cardi closed down his angles as De Jong struck (84') then imposed himself on an effort from 20 metres out. Offensively, the Red and Blacks, - wearing white - first had a rather small chance as Marcel, who put in an energetic performance, coming off the bench, tried his luck 10 minutes before the end; before Plea received the ball in the closing stages but pulled his shot just too far to the right.
To keep the Champions League dream going, Nice will have to create the same sensation in the Amsterdam Arena, in a week’s time.
It will be, once again, a quality game, played high up the pitch. Everything will be tough. But everything remains open.
Nice, Allianz Riviera,
OGC Nice 1-1 Ajax Amsterdam (half-time 1-0)
Champions League 3rd qualifying round, first leg
Referee: Carlos Del Cerro Grande
Goals: Balotelli for Nice (32'), ; Van De Beek for Ajax (49')
Yellow cards: Balotelli (30'), Eysseric (40') for Nice ; De Ligt (66'), Schöne (69'), Sanchez (78') Van De Beek (78'), Veltman (90') for Ajax
OGC Nice : Cardinale - Souquet, Dante (cap.), Le Marchand, Sarr - Koziello, Seri - Lees-Melou (Dalbert, 87'), Srarfi (Marcel, 77'), Eysseric - Balotelli (Plea, 70').
Ajax Amsterdam : Onana – Veltman (cap.), Sanchez, De Ligt, Viergever – Van de Beek, Schöne (De Jong, 73'), Ziyech – Kluivert (Neres, 68'), Dolberg, Younes.