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Chelsea and Ajax serve up eight-goal Champions League thriller

Many were expecting Chelsea and Ajax, two of this season’s most exciting young teams in Europe, to serve up a treat at Stamford Bridge, but none would have predicted quite how crazy it would become.

Both sides traded what they must have thought were knockout blows throughout the tie, only for the other to haul itself off the canvas — for Ajax, it came with a helping hand from VAR.

When the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the game with the scores tied at 4-4, you were left wondering how it wasn’t more.

Last season, the Champions League bore witness to some stunning comebacks; Liverpool’s famous Anfield turnaround against Barcelona and Tottenham’s Houdini act away to Ajax to name the two most memorable.

Chelsea’s this evening set an early marker for this season that will surely be hard to top.

Jorginho coolly steps up to equalize for Chelsea.

The first half was eventful enough — in fact, make that the opening four minutes.

After Quincy Promes’ free-kick was inadvertently diverted into his own goal by Tammy Abraham, Jorginho equalized from the penalty spot just 67 seconds later after Christian Pulisic was clumsily taken down.

Before Chelsea had a chance to breathe, Ajax was suddenly 3-1 up. Hakim Ziyech, a silky player many expected to leave Ajax in the summer, was instrumental to both the second and third goals.

The first came as Promes nodded home from Ziyech’s sublime cross and the second was something of a freak goal.

The Moroccan’s whipped free-kick cannoned off the far post and hit Kepa Arrizabalaga square in the face before going over the line.

Kepa Arrizabalaga scores an unfortunate own goal.

When Donny van de Beek put Ajax 4-1 up after an hour Stamford Bridge was almost completely silent.

Ajax supporters had been denied tickets to this match by UEFA following crowd trouble during the Dutch club’s recent trip to Valencia, and so the corner of this stadium usually reserved for some of Europe’s most raucous fans was empty.

Those Ajax fans watching on television back in the Netherlands must have been agog as the match descended into brilliant chaos and became one the all-time great Champions League clashes.

Just after the hour mark, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta snuck in at the far post to get the faintest of touches onto Tammy Abraham’s wayward shot and spark hope of a revival.

Eight minutes later, Jorginho scored his second penalty of the match — but not before referee Gianluca Rocchi took center stage.

The Italian official first sent off Daley Blind — a deserved second yellow for a wild lunge — then awarded Chelsea a penalty for a handball by Joel Veltman.

The decision seemed harsh enough, with the ball taking a huge deflection before hitting Veltman’s arm, but Rocchi then proceeded to send the Dutchman off for the perceived infraction.

After Jorginho’s successful penalty made it 4-3, that left Ajax with 20 minutes to hold for the win with just nine men and neither of its central defenders.

It managed to hold on for just another four minutes, as Reece James reacted first after Kurt Zouma’s header came off the crossbar, drilling a low shot into the far corner.

Cesar Azpilicueta celebrates after scoring what he thought was the winning goals, only for it to be disallowed by VAR.

That goal sparked wild scenes in every corner of Stamford Bridge — bar the empty one without any Ajax fans — and there were still 15 minutes left for Chelsea to find a winner that just 10 minutes ago seemed so improbable.

Azpilicueta thought he had made himself the unlikeliest of heroes when he hammered home a fantastic half-volley, but it would be VAR that would have the last laugh in west London as Abraham was ruled to have handled in the buildup.

Both sides went in search of a late winner and both goalkeepers made fantastic saves to keep the scores level; Andre Onana’s stop from Michy Batshuayi was particularly brilliant.

Despite being down to nine men, Ajax still pressed and a winner for the Dutch side would have been fitting for such a madcap game. Remarkably, the visitor came desperately close to pulling off an unlikely victory when Kepa saved superbly from Lisandro Martínez.

Source

neallesh@yahoo.co.uk

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