'Restless' Ajax in fight for Champions League spot

Ajax forward David Neres (centre) is challenged by Apoel Nicosia players during the Uefa Champions League play-off match at the GSP stadium in Nicosia on Tuesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Ajax forward David Neres (centre) is challenged by Apoel Nicosia players during the Uefa Champions League play-off match at the GSP stadium in Nicosia on Tuesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NICOSIA (Cyprus) • Ajax coach Erik ten Hag has urged his "restless" side to be more clinical in their fight to qualify for the Champions League group stage, after drawing 0-0 with Cypriot side Apoel Nicosia in the first leg of their play-off.

Last season's semi-finalists Ajax started strongly but Apoel came close to winning in the last half hour. Andrija Pavlovic headed against the bar and Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana was forced to make excellent saves on Tuesday.

Ajax also played the last 10 minutes with 10 men after right-back Noussair Mazraoui was sent off for a second yellow card.

"You have to bring good results in such competitions and we did. We started well but we became impatient and restless," said ten Hag. "The mistakes have to be eliminated but we also have to go through our plan and it will be fine.

"We have the quality to improve our opportunities. We had four or five good opportunities tonight.

"We have to work on this every day. And above all remain calm in our heads."

Veteran striker Klass Jan Huntelaar, who came on with 12 minutes left, had a clear opportunity to win the game in added time. But the 36-year-old's tame chip was cleared, illustrating Ajax's lack of prolificness in front of goal.

According to ESPN statistics, the Dutch side had 19 shots on goal.

"I expect the same compact defensive zone from Apoel in the second game. But we need to play much better," Ajax forward and captain Dusan Tadic said. "We gave the ball away too easily."

The four-time European champions are playing in the qualifying phase because of the relatively low Uefa ranking of the Dutch league, which they won last season.

Ajax scraped through the previous round, beating Greek side Paok Thessaloniki 5-4 on aggregate.

ASSOCIATED PRESS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2019, with the headline ''Restless' Ajax in fight for Champions League spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe