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Tuesday UCL Rewind: Ajax, Young Boys, and AEK all advance to group stage


One of the most historic clubs in Europe is set for a return to the continent’s most storied competition, as Ajax have qualified for the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2014. The Dutch giants maintained their 3-1 advantage from the first leg, keeping a young Dynamo Kyiv attack quiet and earning themselves a well-deserved 0-0 draw away in Ukraine.

Ajax saw their two-goal cushion threatened right out of the gates, with Dynamo starting the game lively. The Ukrainian side created a great chance in the 5th minute, but Ajax keeper André Onana was equal to Benjamin Verbić’s effort, using his reflexes to spectacularly parry the Serbian’s flick.

The visitors eventually reacted to Kyiv’s threatening first 10 minutes, and quickly calmed the match down with their patient passing and slow build-up play. The 14th minute saw Ajax squander a real opportunity to put the tie to bed, as attacker Dusan Tadić cannoned his penalty off the crossbar. Another missed opportunity for de Godenzonen occurred 30 minutes later when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar spurned a one-one-one opportunity due in part to Dynamo goalie Denys Boyko’s ability to rush off his line.

Huntelaar, Tadić, and Donny Van de Beek can all consider themselves lucky knowing that their wastefulness did not come back to haunt the team. The defensive solidity provided by Matthijs De Ligt, Daley Blind, and co. helped ensure that despite a sputtering offense, Ajax would indeed progress to the next stage of the competition.

Heroic Guillaume Hoarou lifts Young Boys over Dinamo Zagreb 

Swiss champions BSC Young Boys are headed to the Champions League group stage for the first time in their history after beating Dinamo Zagreb 3-2 on aggregate.

Dinamo and Young Boys headed into this second-leg equal at 1-1 and with it all to play for. After a seventh-minute goal from Dinamo’s Izet Hajrovic it looked like the boys from Zagreb would be advancing to the group stage. Hajrovic sent the home fans into raptures when he beat Young Boys keeper David Van Ballmoos after pouncing on a failed clearance from the box.

The 1-0 scoreline was carried into halftime, but the match quickly changed shortly thereafter. A quick-fire double from French striker Guillaume Hoarou turned the tie on its head, with the 34-year-old netting a penalty in the 64th-minute and poking home a loose ball from a corner just two minutes later.

Hajrovic, who was lively all game, nearly equalized in the 71st-minute through a rasping shot that had beaten Van Ballmoos but not the woodwork, firing off the crossbar and out. The edgy matched continued in an entertaining matter, but no more goals were found in the remaining 28 minutes.

AEK Athens overcome two red cards to best MOL Vidi FC

Perhaps the most chaotic match of the evening, the second-leg tie between AEK and Vidi saw two red cards and two goals. Despite being at a two-man disadvantage the Greek champions were able to progress, taking advantage of their one goal cushion from the first leg.

The first half was rather dull, as both sides struggled to create real goal scoring opportunities under the persistent rain in Athens. Just minutes after halftime, however, Vidi conceded a penalty after Hélder Costa was brought down in the box. AEK captain Petros Mantalos did what Ajax attacker Dusan Tadić could not, coolly sending the keeper the wrong way and converting the penalty.

Loic Nego finally got his reward for terrorizing AEK’s defense nearly all match when he found the back of the net in the 57th-minute. His goal, a deft chip that looped over Vasilios Barkas, came from a quick Vidi counter that had caught AEK off guard.

What was originally a slow match quickly became open and attacking, with both sides thinking that one goal could secure their place in the group stage. No further goals were scored, but the match did descend into chaos for disciplinary issues.  Hélder Costa was sent off in the 80th-minute, and despite consistent cautioning from the referee, Marko Livaja was sent off after the whistle.

AEK will now start the group stage without two of their key players, but their rash yet dogged home performance was what they needed to accomplish their short-term goal of advancing in the Champions League.

The UEFA Champions League qualifying round concludes on Wednesday with three more second-leg ties to play.


  1. Thank you, SBI, for covering the UCL at all, even in these early stages when most US fans have few connections to the players or the teams. The other thing would be to at least mention these midweek games in the “soccer on TV” section.
    An angle that might interest US viewers going forward is the competition between TNT / B/R and Univisión for TV coverage, both in quality and in quantity, including the Europa League. It could be interesting if SBI could get interviews with any key figures.
    TNT this week was a little less cringeworthy than last, with fewer people interrupting each other and fewer clips not cued up. Kate Abdo in the ugly gray cave looked slightly less tired, but made untypical errors like confusing ‘resolve’ with ‘absolve.’ Steve Nash is still the weakest link, with a limp on-air delivery that needs either voice coaching (diaphragm!) or better amplification or both. Joleon Lescott was softspoken and accented but okay, Tim Howard was okay, Carlos Bocanegra was okay, although they could all join Steve Nash for the voice coaching. Charlie Davies was louder and firmer, which was both bad and good. Stu Holden’s cardigan was embarrassing, but he seemed to try a little harder not to interrupt. Apparently “B/R” is a website or an app, but they never give a URL for it?
    The little clips from one elegantly coiffed Fernando Pérez in Europe – evidently a former baseball player? w h y ? – have almost nothing to do with soccer, and little to do with places like Salzburg, where instead of learning anything about Mozart, the guy apparently jumped out of a helicopter. O-kay. (I fast forwarded.)
    Again, the (gray, cave-dwelling) elephant in the room seems to be that they have few to no current soccer video clips and zero current soccer reporters, but have to try to fill up an entire hour before the game nevertheless. So now they’re trying historic UCL videos (fast forward x3) or silly edited meme-like photos (fast forward x4). I can’t quite imagine what audience they’re targeting – dim kids cutting school or soccer practice?
    Univisión, in this case, evidently picked the more interesting game, with Young Boys surprisingly knocking out Zagreb; and again, focused their briefer discussion on … soccer. What a concept. I wonder whether, if enough English-speaking viewers expressed interest, they might add an SAP audio track with English-language commentary, as they do for some MLS games. They certainly have several competently bilingual people who could do the job.
    And others who are polishing up their vocab. It gave me a chuckle last week to hear Diego Balado venturing onto the English side, with a degree of success. He has always been one of the most articulate and thoughtful Spanish speakers, and while he’s considerably more hesitant in English, he can certainly compete with Marcelo Balboa’s Spanglish.
    I wish I thought all this was, on the whole, good news for soccer coverage in the US going forward. Maybe it still will be, if some viewers speak up. In the meantime, thanks to sites such as SBI for any coverage at all.


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