Darwin Núñez

Darwin Núñez header in the 77th minute was all Benfica needed to progress to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League at the expense of Ajax.

With a 2-2 aggregate in the first leg, the tie promised to be a closely contested affair with Ajax throwing everything at their disposal to get that needed goal that would lift them past their opponents.

Ajax had the ball in the back of Odysseas Vlachodimos’ net in the seventh minute when Sébastien Haller prodded home Dušan Tadić’s cross, but the Serbian had been caught offside in the build-up.

The hosts continued to exert pressure despite the offside call and saw Edson Álvarez and Jurriën Timber heading over before Ryan Gravenberch’s venomous strike from range was tipped behind.

The second half was more of the same scenario with Tadić firing off target after evading the attentions of Nicolás Otamendi. But Benfica had a glorious opportunity of their own in the 57th minute when former Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen headed wide from a corner when he only had the net at his mercy.

Daley Blind’s cross came agonizingly close to finding the top corner for Ajax but the visitor’s resolute defence was standing tall as they bought the time of their own. Their moment of the wait was to come in the 77th minute when Darwin Núñez rose ahead of André Onana to head in Grimaldo’s free-kick delivery for his 26th goal this season.

Erik ten Hag made late changes as the hosts pushed for an equalizer, but Vertonghen produced a brilliant header to deny Haller a late opportunity, ensuring ‘As Águias’ secured just their second win in their last 11 matches away in the Netherlands and UCL progression.

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