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Ten Hag left with 'bitter' taste as Benfica dump Ajax out of Champions League
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Erik ten Hag was left disappointed as Ajax crashed out of the Champions League to Benfica.
Erik ten Hag was left disappointed as Ajax crashed out of the Champions League to Benfica.

Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag described his side's defeat as a "bitter" blow after they fell to Benfica in the last 16 of the Champions League.

The reigning Eredivisie champions controlled most of the exchanges, boasting over 70 per cent of possession as it seemed Ajax would find the decisive goal following a 2-2 draw in the first meeting late in February.

But a late Darwin Nunez header secured a 3-2 aggregate victory in the last-16 clash as the striker powered in his fourth Champions League goal this season. Only Nuno Gomes has ever scored more in a single season for the club in the Champions League era (five in 1998-99).

That meant Ajax became just the second side to have scored as many as 22 goals without reaching the quarter-finals of the competition, after Paris Saint-Germain in 2017-18 when they netted 27 but went out at this same stage.

Ten Hag bemoaned his side's failure to make their dominance pay after Ajax failed to reach the quarter-finals in the competition for an 11th time in their last 12 attempts, since reaching the last eight in the 2002-03 campaign.

"We played good football, we were good defensively, and we also played good pressing. Then it is bitter that you do not win," Ten Hag told RTL after the game.

"But small mistakes have big consequences, you will see that tonight, and in Lisbon. We know that they are strong in set-pieces and then there is a miscommunication between two players.

"We have neutralised them completely, except for one moment."

Goalkeeper Andre Onana was towered above by Nunez for the 77th-minute winner, which was Benfica's only attempt on target, but Ajax captain Dusan Tadic refused to place the blame on one individual following the defeat.

"It is difficult to find the right words. We knew that they are strong with set-pieces and counter-attacks, that is what it is all about in Europe," Tadic told RTL.

"I am so disappointed, we should have scored earlier, in the first half. We are a team, and it doesn't matter if we win or lose, we have to stay together, and we can't blame anyone."

Daley Blind, who became Ajax's outright Champions League appearance record holder with his 44th outing in the competition, echoed Tadic's sentiments as he vented his frustration.

"This hurts, I think it is unjust," Blind said. "I have little to say about our game. We have not encountered much, only that one moment, then you just have to stand your ground in the box."


Champions LeagueAjaxEredivisie
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