Cristiano Ronaldo returned to action with a bang as Juventus earned a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Ajax in the first leg of their Champions League quarter final.
The Portuguese superstar had not featured for the Bianconeri since his hat-trick heroics in the last round against Atletico Madrid, but he showed no rustiness from a thigh strain sustained on international duty, as he brilliantly headed home his 125th goal in the competition on the stroke of half time.
Ajax had been the better of the two sides up to that point with Donny van de Beek and Hakim Ziyech going close, but they did not let the setback unsettle them and were level within 30 seconds of the restart. David Neres seized upon an error from Joao Cancelo, surged into the left side of the area and curved a brilliant shot into the far corner.
The home side continued to pose most of the questions but couldn’t find a way through, and the Old Lady almost snatched victory late on when substitute Douglas Costa’s solo attempt came back off the post.
The teams will now meet again for the return leg in Turin on April 16, with the winner set for a last four clash with either Tottenham or Manchester City.
Christiano Ronaldo of Juventus Turin celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal with team mates during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final first leg match between Ajax and Juventus at Johan Cruyff Arena–Getty Images
Ajax shine once more, but Ronaldo’s love affair with this competition continues. The Dutch side have earned plenty of admirers for a thrilling CL adventure that has seen them reach this juncture for the first time since 2002-03, and they were the better side by some distance for large spells in this first leg. However, Ronaldo’s sensational ability to produce the goods in the latter stages of Europe’s elite competition means Juventus return home with what could be a vital away goal. The 34-year-old was bought by the Bianconeri to help them get over the final hurdle and win this trophy for the first time since 1996, having lost two of the last four finals. And with an eighth straight Serie A title just a point away, don’t be surprised to see the Italian giants wrap their No.7 in cotton wool ready for Europe. It’s advantage Juve, but don’t rule out an Ajax side who hit four at the Bernabeu in the last round just yet.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Frenkie de Jong (Ajax). The 21-year-old pulled the strings in the midfield and controlled much of the proceedings as he showed once more why Barcelona were so keen to sign him up for next season.
AJAX: Onana 6, Veltman 7, De Ligt 7, Blind 7, Tagliafico 7, Schone 6, De Jong 8, Ziyech 8, Van den Beek 7, Neres 8, Tadic 7. Subs: Ekkelenkamp 6.
JUVENTUS: Szczesny 8, Cancelo 7, Bonucci 7, Rugani 7, Alex Sandro 7, Bentancur 8, Pjanic 7, Matuidi 7, Bernardeschi 7, Mandzukic 6, Ronaldo 7. Subs: Douglas Costa 7, Dybala 6, Khedira n/a.
18′ – AJAX CHANCE! Ziyech takes aim with a curling effort from the edge of the area but Szczesny manages to get across to tip it over the bar.
25′ – AJAX CHANCE! Donny van de Beek turns on to Tadic’s cut back from the right and flashes a shot agonisingly wide of the far post on the stretch.
45′ – GOAL! Ajax 0-1 Juventus. Ronaldo returns with a bang. That’s his 125th CL goal and it’s a bullet header from João Cancelo’s cross.
46′ – GOAL! Ajax 1-1 Juventus. Ajax level right from the off. David Neres seizes upon an error by Cancelo, races towards the left of the area and curves a wonderful shot into the far corner.
82′ – AJAX CHANCE! Almost a dream CL debut for Ekkelenkamp as he spins on to a delicious flick, but sees his low effort beaten away by Szczesny.
85′ – JUVENTUS CHANCE! Douglas Costa embarks upon a stunning, super-charged solo run on the left before unleashing a low drive that cannons back off the far post.
Ronaldo is now the joint-top goalscorer of Champions League goals at the Johan Cruijff Arena with six goals (level with Zlatan Ibrahimovic).
Neres has now scored seven goals in his last eight games across all competitions for Ajax.
Ajax have come from behind to score the equaliser more often than any other team this Champions League season (six times).