TRAORE

Scores twice as Ajax beat Lyon 4-1 in Europa semis

New Straits Times - - Sport -

AM­S­TER­DAM

BER­TRAND Traore scored two goals and cre­ated another as a ram­pant Ajax beat Lyon 4-1 in the first leg of their Europa League semi-fi­nal on Wed­nes­day.

Burk­ina Faso for­ward Traore, who is on loan to Ajax from Chelsea, had been in doubt be­fore kick­off with a groin in­jury. But the 21-year-old showed no ill ef­fects as the four-time Euro­pean Cup win­ners made the most of their first Euro­pean semi-fi­nal since 1997.

In be­tween his strikes, Traore lined up 19-year-old Den­mark striker Kasper Dol­berg to score Ajax’s sec­ond in the 34th minute and Amin Younes added the hosts’ third in the 49th minute, but Mathieu Val­buena’s away goal for Lyon in the 66th will give his team at least a faint hope of ad­vanc­ing from next week’s sec­ond leg in France.

Play­ing in the Am­s­ter­dam Arena for the first time since an an­nounce­ment that the sta­dium will be re­named in hon­our of Ajax’s great­est player, Jo­han Cruyff, the Am­s­ter­dam team put in a per­for­mance that would have made him proud. It also showed that this young Ajax team could be strong enough to win their first con­ti­nen­tal ti­tle since 1995.

Poor fin­ish­ing and good goal­keep­ing com­bined to keep the score re­spectable for Lyon in a match fea­tur­ing re­lent­less at­tack­ing by both teams. Even the small group of French fans ap­plauded Ajax play­ers as they per­formed a lap of hon­our af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle.

Ajax coach Peter Bosz called it a “bizarre” match that could have ended 7-3 or 8-4.

De­spite a tough first 20 min­utes, he was pleased that Ajax’s trade­mark at­tack­ing style had paid off.

“We want to win and we want to do that in an at­trac­tive way,” he said. “At­tack is the best form of de­fence.”

Af­ter a scrappy open­ing in which Lyon gave Ajax little time or space on the ball, Traore put Ajax ahead in the 25th minute, leap­ing be­tween a crowd of de­fend­ers to send a glanc­ing header into the far cor­ner from a free­kick by Hakim Ziyech.

Ziyech was also the provider for Traore’s sec­ond in the 71st minute.

Traore cre­ated Ajax’s sec­ond goal nine min­utes af­ter his first, pow­er­fully head­ing a poor clear­ance by Lyon goal­keeper An­thony Lopes into the path of Dol­berg, who calmly fired a low vol­ley past the goal­keeper.

Ajax should have been fur­ther ahead at the break. Left-winger Younes popped up on the right just be­fore half time and broke through the Lyon de­fence, but Lopes made amends for his ear­lier mis­take by sav­ing well.

The clos­est Lyon came in the first half was in the 10th minute when Lu­cas Tousart cut back the ball for Maxwel Cor­net. But his side-foot shot from close range was saved by An­dre Onana, one of sev­eral good saves by the Ajax goal­keeper.

Lyon top scorer Alexan­dre La­cazette had re­cov­ered suf­fi­ciently from a right ham­string in­jury to start on the bench and coach Bruno Ge­n­e­sio risked bring­ing him on mid­way through the sec­ond half in an at­tempt to get his team back into the match.

Younes made up for his ear­lier squan­dered chance soon af­ter the break, run­ning onto a pass by Ziyech and hit­ting a shot that was de­flected and only just crossed the line.

Lyon grabbed a life­line when Onana’s de­spair­ing dive was not enough to keep out Val­buena’s pow­er­ful shot.

But Traore re­stored Ajax’s three-goal cush­ion five min­utes later when he ran onto a per­fectly timed cross from Ziyech and jabbed the ball home from close range.

Lyon coach Bruno Ge­n­e­sio ad­mit­ted af­ter the match it would be hard to progress to the fi­nal.

“We have to be­lieve that it is pos­si­ble,” he said.

“But it will be dif­fi­cult, that’s a fact.” AP

REUTERS PIC

Ajax’s Ber­trand Traore scores their fourth goal against Lyon in the Europa League semi-fi­nal on Wed­nes­day. Ajax won 4-1.

EPA PIC

Real Madrid’s Dani Car­va­jal

re­acts af­ter get­ting in­jured dur­ing their Cham­pi­ons League semi-fi­nal against Atletico

Madrid on Tues­day.

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