Welcome back, Ajax! Dolberg & Co. evoke memories of glorious past in rousing win over Lyon

GOAL

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Oh, how the Amsterdam ArenA has missed days like this! Four goals in an electrifying performance from an exuberant young team in a European semi-final, sending the iconic stadium erupting in excitement.

With Louis van Gaal watching on and a rising prospect named Kluivert in the squad, you would have been forgiven for thinking it was the mid-1990s.

The dramatic elimination of Schalke in the previous round was celebrated almost like a title win, and rightly so. However, Wednesday’s 4-1 win over Lyon in the last four was something else.

Traore at the double for awesome Ajax

After seeing their chances of winning the Eredivisie go up in flames with a defeat at PSV last week, Peter Bosz’s side recovered perfectly to launch themselves back into relevance on the European stage.

A double from Bertrand Traore and goals from Kasper Dolberg and Amin Younes had the stadium shaking. The fans and the media lucky enough to be in attendance were torn between disbelief and pure awe.

Bertrand Traore Ajax Lyon Europa League
Bertrand Traore Ajax Europa League

It was, in many ways, classic Ajax: the youth, the attacking nature, the pressing, the entertainment. With the attackers defending and the defenders attacking, it was as close to Van Gaal’s golden era as they have come in a long time.

As coach Peter Bosz enthused afterwards, "Reaching the last four was already a big achievement - our first semi final in 20 years - but how we did it was more important. Not with defensive football but our own way of playing. We combine winning with attractive football."

Ajaxy's starting XI, average age of 22 years and 137 days, was the second youngest in a European competition this season. Even more impressively, in a table of the 10 youngest starting XI’s in the Europa League this season, while Genk are No.1, Ajax take up every other spot.

The inexperienced hosts looked a little nervous early on. For the first 25 minutes, Ajax were chasing the game. Simply unable to get near the Lyon box, let alone inside it, Lyon’s shape had them pushed back.

Containing midfielders Hakim Ziyech, Lasse Schone and Davy Klaassen in close proximity deep in their half, the home side could not build up, keeping Traore and Younes limited.

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But when Traore got on the end of a Ziyech free-kick, he put Ajax in the lead with their first touch inside the box and from there, Bosz’s side picked up the pace and the power.

Less than 10 minutes later, Dolberg doubled the lead when a poor clearance was nodded into the young Danish striker’s path and he buried it with the striker’s instinct he has shown so often this season.

From then on, they were so elevated they had no qualms about singing “Don’t worry about a thing, cos every little thing is gonna be alright”, Bob Marley’s 'Three Little Birds' ringing out around the ground before the second half.

They found their shape and stuck with it. Although the away goal is an unwanted negative, they can have few complaints. Even the back-up defenders – Kenny Tete and Jairo Riedewald, starting in place of the suspended Joel Veltman and Nick Viergever – were lovely.

Tete was on top of Valbuena from the beginning, Riedewald was solid, while 20-year-old Davinson Sanchez and Matthias de Ligt, 17, in the centre were sound too.

Kasper Dolberg Europa League PS

The third from Younes, which arrived early in the second half, was well deserved and even the silly goal they conceded through Mathieu Valbuena did not put a real dampener on the evening. It did, though, expose a needless fragility, given they had won the first ball only to give the dangerous France international a free run at the follow up.

Determined to go out on a high, though, Ajax got further reward when Traore burst in to meet Ziyech’s dangerous cross from the left and send it past Anthony Lopes.

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With 20 minutes left, few in the stadium could believe it, but in the end the only shock was that Ajax didn’t score more.

Traore, Younes, Klaassen and Ziyech - who became the first player to rack up three assists in a Europa League semi-final - all had chances to add further misery to Lyon, but in the end, the Sons of the Gods are still just 90 minutes away from a Europa League final, which is exactly where they deserve to be after a truly thrilling display.

“Forever Johan Cruyff”, reads a huge banner high above one goal, and in the wake of the announcement that the stadium is to be renamed in his honour, this team can say they did their late icon proud.

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