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Canny Atalanta win at Ajax to reach last 16

FOOTBALL By Reuters | December 10th 2020
Football - Champions League - Group D - Ajax Amsterdam v Atalanta - Johan Cruijff Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands - December 9, 2020. Atalanta players celebrate after the match. [REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw]

A late goal from Luis Muriel earned Atalanta a 1-0 win at 10-man Ajax Amsterdam on Wednesday and sent the Italian side into the Champions League knockout stages at the expense of their Dutch hosts.

Ajax needed victory at the Amsterdam Arena to pip their Italian visitors to second place in Group D behind Liverpool but failed to create many chances as Atalanta produced an astute performance topped off by a breakaway goal in the 85th minute.

The Italian side finished the group on 11 points, four more than Ajax, who will go into the Europa League. Liverpool were top and Denmark’s Midtjylland bottom.

Atalanta, quarter-finalists in last season’s Champions League, abandoned their usual all-out attacking approach to concentrate on stifling Ajax’s midfield and denying the home side possession, executing coach Gian Piero Gasperini's plan to near perfection.

Ajax created only a single chance in the first half when 18-year-old striker Brian Brobbey, on his competition debut, headed into the hands of goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini.

Football - Champions League - Group D - Ajax Amsterdam v Atalanta - Johan Cruijff Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands - December 9, 2020. Ajax Amsterdam's Ryan Gravenberch is shown a red card by the referee. [REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw]

They found more room in a desperate last 20 minutes when a penalty appeal after substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar tumbled theatrically to the ground, was turned down and Davy Klaassen shot into the legs of Gollini.

But the 78th-minute dismissal of 18-year-old midfielder Ryan Gravenberch, sent off for a second caution, hampered home hopes.

Atalanta's Dutch international midfielder Marten de Roon fired wide early and Matteo Pessina had an attempt blocked after a poor punch out by Ajax keeper Andre Onana.

The Italians, who only needed a draw to advance, secured the win when Remo Freuler’s perfectly-weighted ball found Muriel clear on goal and he rounded Onana to score. 

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