Ajax 0-3 Chelsea: giant-killers given lesson in ruthlessness

Amsterdam Arena, 19th march 2024 Kadeisha Buchanan #24 dueling Romee Leuchter #7 at Ajax - Chelsea in the Uefa Woman Champions League at 19th of march 2024 (Arne van der Ben / SPP) (Photo by Arne van der Ben / SPP/Sipa USA)

Ajax left themselves with a mountain to climb in the Champions League after going down 3-0 in the first leg of their quarter-final against Chelsea.

Cheered on by a record crowd of 35,991 in the Johan Cruyff Arena, the home side started brightly and almost took a sixth-minute lead when Romée Leuchter’s shot came back off the post.

But the English league leaders soon took control and went ahead in the 19th minute when Lauren James took advantage of a moment of confusion to steer the ball around Regina van Eijk and into the empty net.

German midfielder Sjoeke Nüsken slid in a second just before half-time and powered in a header in the second half to make the second leg at Stamford Bridge a formality.

Ajax reached the knock-out stages with home wins over top women’s teams Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich in the group stages, but had no answer to Chelsea’s attacking force.

Coach Suzanne Bakker conceded that her team, who were missing their suspended captain Sherida Spitse, had been given a lesson in clinical finishing.

“I think we had the first chance when it came back off the post,” she said. “They converted their chances. They were ruthless.

“They have top players in every position. They’re physically strong and play at a high tempo. But I’m hugely proud of what we achieved today.”

Spitse, who has more than 200 international caps for the women’s team, will be back for the second leg, adding her experience to a team with an average age of 22. But 16-year-old prospect Lily Johannes will be missing after picking up a yellow card in the second half.

“We want to show who we are at Stamford Bridge,” said Bakker, who is leaving Ajax at the end of the season. “Of course 3-0 is a big gap, but we want to win the match and make a great night of it.”

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