Champions League: Sébastien Haller scores at both ends as Ajax earn draw at Benfica


Lisbon: Sebastien Haller kept up his remarkable scoring record in this season’s Champions League, finding the target at the right end shortly after putting through his own net as Ajax drew 2-2 with Benfica in their last 16, first leg on Wednesday.

Haller’s 26th-minute own goal cancelled out Dusan Tadic’s opener for the Dutch champions at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, but the Ivory Coast striker then put Ajax back in front just three minutes later.

It was not enough for Erik ten Hag’s side to win the game, as Ukraine international Roman Yaremchuk came off the bench in the second half to earn Benfica a deserved draw.

However, Haller has now scored 11 goals in this season’s Champions League after ending the group stage in double figures.

Having never played in the competition before this season, he is the first player to score in each of his first seven Champions League appearances.

Only Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski and Ruud van Nistelrooy have scored in more consecutive Champions League matches, with Ronaldo doing so in 11 straight games between 2017 and 2018.

The former West Ham United man is also just the second Ajax player to score 11 goals in Europe in the same season, after Ruud Geels in 1975-76.

However, with UEFA having abolished the away goals rule in Europe, the tie remains firmly in the balance going into the return leg in Amsterdam on March 15.

Ajax took the lead in the 18th minute in this meeting of two clubs with six European Cups between them thanks to a fine finish from skipper Tadic.

Alex Grimaldo lost possession under pressure from Noussair Mazraoui who then delivered a measured cross from the Ajax right for Tadic to score with a cushioned first-time finish for his 10th goal of the season.

However, Benfica drew level soon after as former Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen drilled a low ball into the six-yard box and Haller — for once in the wrong place — could only help it on its way into the net.

Yet he made up for that just three minutes later, pouncing to convert the follow-up after Odisseas Vlachodimos had stopped Vertonghen diverting a Steven Berghuis cross into his own net.

It was Haller’s 29th goal in 29 games in all competitions this season for his club.

Ajax could have extended their lead just before the break as Antony slipped in Edson Alvarez, but the Mexican’s shot came back off the far post and this time Haller was unable to turn in the rebound.

Benfica, currently third in the Portuguese league, then stepped up the pressure in the second half and got their reward in the 72nd minute.

Veteran Ajax goalkeeper Remko Pasveer could only parry out a Goncalo Ramos shot and the giant Yaremchuk — who had replaced Brazilian international Everton 10 minutes earlier — was able to head in the loose ball.

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