Ajax draws Benfica for Champions League knockout amid controversy
The official lottery draw on Monday afternoon determined that Ajax will compete in the Champions League Round of 16 against the Portuguese club Benfica. The Amsterdam club advanced to the knockout phase after Erik ten Hag's team became the first Dutch club to win all of its group stage matches.
Ajax will first play an away match in Lisbon on February 15. The teams will take part in the second leg in Amsterdam on March 8.
The two clubs have played seven matches at the top level of European football. Ajax holds a record of 4 wins, 1 loss, and 2 draws, with ten total goals scored against Benfica's five. They last played in a 2019 group match in Lisbon which ended in a 1-1 draw. Ajax won the earlier group match with a stoppage time goal by Noussair Mazraoui. Ajax went on to the semi-finals of that tournament, losing in heartbreaking fashion to Tottenham Hotspur on aggregate away goals.
Ajax defeated Benfica on aggregate, 0-1, to win the semi-finals of the 1971-72 European Cup. They then defeated Inter Milan in the finals to take the championship. Three years earlier, they wound up tied 4-4 with Benfica on aggregate, forcing an extraordinary tie-breaking match. The Amsterdam club secured a 3-0 victory with three goals in extra time, including a stunning shot from Johan Cruijff at the edge of the area in the 92nd minute.
Initially, Ajax was to play Inter Milan, but UEFA, the European football association, was forced to redo the entire draw for the Round of 16 due to errors with the lottery. The mix-up started when Manchester United was picked to play Villarreal. This was immediately voided as the two played each other at the group stage. Manchester City was then picked to compete against Villarreal, but the ball representing Manchester United was left out of the bowl for the next selection, a match against Atlético Madrid. Bayern Munich was then chosen to compete against Atlético Madrid, leaving Manchester United set to battle Paris Saint-Germain.
That would have resulted in a duel between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, considered two of the best footballers in recent memory. UEFA blamed the problem on "a technical problem with the software of an external service provider," and scheduled the do-over at 3 p.m.
Instead, Manchester United will play Atlético Madrid. Oranje player Donny van de Beek is one of Ronaldo's teammates at the English club. Messi is flanked by Georginio Wijnaldum. Together, they will take on Real Madrid.
Villarreal, with Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld, drew Juventus, the current home of Matthijs de Ligt. One of the players on the Manchester City roster is Oranje defender Nathan Aké. The English champions will face Sporting Portugal. The Portuguese club finished second behind Ajax in Group C with nine points.
Dutch international footballers Denzel Dumfries and Stefan de Vrij play at Inter, which is the current leader in Serie A and the reigning Italian champions. They will take on Liverpool with Dutch center-back Virgil van Dijk. Sven Botman, who plays for Lille, will take on defending champion Chelsea.
The UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Draw
All matches take place on February 15 and March 8
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Bayern Munich
Sporting Portugal vs. Manchester City
Benfica vs. Ajax
Chelsea vs. Lille
Atlético Madrid vs. Manchester United
Villarreal vs. Juventus
Inter Milan vs. Liverpool
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Real Madrid
Reporting by ANP