Ajax 1-1 AC Milan: Balotelli’s controversial penalty earns Milan a draw

As Mario Balotelli slotted home a controversial injury time penalty to earn AC Milan a point against Ajax, a dagger was simultaneously driven through the heart of each and every fan of the Amsterdam club. A 90th minute opener from Stefano Denswil seemed to have snatched a victory for the hosts in an entertaining encounter, but a contentious spot-kick awarded after Balotelli seemed to have dived allowed the Italian side to level the tie.

While a 1-1 draw was a fair result overall, there will be a feeling of regret among the Ajax players having failed to take the chances they created throughout a first-half in which they were totally dominant, enjoying 70% possession. However, there will be a lingering feeling of anger that they were robbed by a dive from Super Mario as he and Mike van der Hoorn tangled in the box at the end of a second period in which Milan were the more assertive side.

[Photocredit:  Peter Dejong]

[Photocredit: Peter Dejong]

“This point comes with a bitter taste,” said Ajax coach Frank de Boer after the game. “At the end of the day I can live with a point, but to concede with the penalty was disappointing. There are always moments of contact in the box. It’s about letting go at the right moment and Van Der Hoorn did that. It was ridiculous that penalty was awarded.

“We dominated the first half with very good positional play and also had our chances. After the break we made more wrong choices and were restless. Milan were more in the game.

“If you create three or four good chances in today’s football, you must score at least one.”

The Amsterdammers did threaten in the first period, though, initially when Kolbeinn Sigthorsson got down the left side and unleashed a shot, only to be denied by Abbiati.

Later, left-back Daley Blind squeezed past Ignazio Abate and Mario Balotelli and stretched to play it onto Viktor Fischer. The 19-year-old forward then fired a dangerous effort towards goal, but it flew just wide.

Ajax seemed more comfortable and assured in the first-half against Massimiliano Allegri’s men than they did in the Camp Nou two weeks prior, appearing more driven than they did even against Go Ahead Eagles on Saturday evening. The Dutch champions made good use of the wings with De Sa on the right and Daley Blind pushing up from the back on the other side.

On the other hand, Milan seemed somewhat unsettled defensively. Almost giving a goal away in the 28th minute when Philippe Mexes’ unnecessarily audacious pass was lucky to reach Cristian Zapata, but the former Udinese man then gave it away allowing Ajax to get the ball in the box, but Sigthorsson couldn’t connect to it. Later, Abbiati had to palm over a powerful Duarte free kick and shortly afterwards Zapata headed a cross out but it fell to Niklas Moisander who smashed it towards goal, only to see it sail over the bar.

While Milan were impotent going forward, Ajax were proactive and relatively dangerous, but not nearly enough considering the amount of possession they had. De Boer had stressed before the match that he understood the need for Ajax to take their chances, having seen PSV dismantled in the qualifying rounds of the competition despite the number of chances they created. There was a feeling of worry looming over the Amsterdam ArenA, Ajax’s lack of cutting edge up front could and would be punished.

That worry was further intensified shortly after the restart. Milan’s intent was made clear within three minutes. Ricardo Van Rhijn was beaten far too easily by Kevin Constant on the flank and it opened up an early opportunity as the defender cut back to Montolivo, whose shot was well saved by Jasper Cillessen. It was the second time in the match that the Guinea international had managed to blaze past the Dutchman, a key weakness in the Ajax back line.

Milan started to dominate in the second-half, with Ajax chasing the ball, but they were unlucky to come up against an inspired Cillessen whose performance went a long way to further cementing him as the side’s number one choice.

The keeper was called into action again when Urby Emanuelson passed to Balotelli who blasted a shot at goal but Cillessen kept it out.

As Milan seemed to be upping their game, Ajax were able to break forward and snatch the opening goal. A Philippe Mexes blunder allowed Siem de Jong to snatch possession and force a corner from Abbiati. A precise delivery from the subsequent corner was met by 20-year-old Stefano Denswil whose powerful leap was followed by an equally impressive header to knock it into the net.

The Arena erupted with that 90th minute header which appeared to have gifted Ajax their first win in the Champions League in just under a year. However, disaster would strike.

Milan immediately piled forward in search of the equaliser, they came agonisingly close when a shot beat Cillessen but was cleared off the line by Van Rhijn.

[Photocredit: Sky Sports]

[Photocredit: Sky Sports]

Ajax panicked and failed to hold onto the ball, Milan sent another forceful wave towards the coast of the hosts’ goal and as one ball was looped in, Balotelli grabbed Van der Hoorn and tumbled to the ground and the referee pointed to the spot. It was a ludicrous decision. Balotelli dived, there is no denying that, and it was the defender who was supposed to have brought him down who felt the victim of foul play. “I felt that he pulled me down,” said Van der Hoorn after the game. “You can see really clear that he makes the offense. This is really sour. Not only for myself, but for everyone.”

Regardless, there was no changing the referee’s decision and so the Italian striker stepped up to smash past the goalkeeper to tie it all up.

It was a crucial blow for Ajax who had started so brightly and played well throughout most of the game. While a 1-1 draw was perhaps a fair result overall, the way in which the lead was wrestled from the home team will be particularly disheartening. However, it would have been a different story had Ajax made their first-half dominance really count. They were punished for that sloppiness, as they have so many times already this season.

The draw leaves Ajax with one point from two games, meaning attaining second-place in the competitive Group H is a feat which looks beyond them. De Boer’s side must get the better of Celtic in the upcoming double header against the Glasgow side, an incredibly difficult task for the Dutch giants.

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