24th February, 2012
Manchester United lost Thursday’s second-leg, round of 32 Europa League match 2-1 to Ajax at Old Trafford, but managed to advance to the last-16 where they would meet Athletic Club next month.
United, who won the first leg by 2-0 qualified on 3-2 aggregate.
The Red Devils looked home and dry when Javier Hernandez extended their aggregate advantage to 3-1 after six minutes.
But Aras Ozbiliz equalised before the break and Toby Alderweireld’s late header ensured an anxious final few minutes inside Old Trafford.
A contingent of over 3,000 Ajax fans were in good voice before kick-off, singing their trademark refrain from Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds: ‘Don’t worry about a thing.’
However, their team soon had reason to doubt that every little thing was going to be alright.
Although Kenneth Vermeer beat away Nani’s shot in the first minute, by the sixth minute United hit target.
Ji-Sung Park, wearing the captain’s armband, intercepted Jan Vertonghen’s pass and Dimitar Berbatov fed Hernandez, who stepped inside Toby Alderweireld and clipped the ball past Vermeer.
After Nicolas Lodeiro had a goal ruled out for offside, Aras Ozbiliz gave Ajax a glimmer of hope with his first European goal eight minutes before the break.
Phil Jones beat Siem de Jong to the ball in the box but cleared only as far as Ozbiliz, whose fierce drive took a slight deflection off Jones en route to the bottom corner.
Frank de Boer’s men began the second half seeking a second goal but Lodeiro shot over from Christian Eriksen’s cutback, then David de Gea – in front of his watching predecessor, Edwin van der Sar – saved well from De Jong’s header.
Sir Alex sent on Paul Scholes and pushed Jones forward to plug the gaps in United’s midfield, and Nani struck the crossbar, but Ajax were not finished.
Ozbiliz lofted a free-kick to the far post and Alderweireld’s header ensured they exit the competition with their heads held high.
United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, who spoke to uefa.com, described the Europa League as a “new territory” for his team to conquer, but he was glad they claimed their place in the last 16 after stumbling at home.
Meanwhile, the round of 16 fixtures were confirmed on Thursday with PSV Eindhoven to meet Valencia, while FC Twente will take on FC Schalke 04.
Both PSV and Valencia enjoyed relatively comfortable passages against far less experienced rivals on the European stage. The Dutch side were 4-1 winners against Trabzonspor AŞ, who had a player sent off, while Unai Emery’s side collected a second 1-0 victory over Stoke City.
The club PSV share the Eredivisie lead with, AZ Alkmaar, also came through after winning 1-0 at RSC Anderlecht, eliminating the only side that had a perfect record in the group stage. They will take on Udinese Calcio, who matched their biggest margin of victory in Europe with a 3-0 success at PAOK FC.
Europa League Results: (Aggregate Scores In Brackets)
Man Utd 1-2 Ajax (3-2)
M/Kharkiv 4-1 R/B Salzburg (8-1)
Olympiacos 1-0 R/Kazan (2-0)
Anderlecht 0-1 AZ (0-2)
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Lazio (4-1)
Besiktas 0-1 Braga (2-1)
Sporting 1-0 Legia Warsaw (3-2)
Round Of 16 Fixtures
AZ Alkmaar v Udinese Calcio
Atlético de Madrid v Beşiktaş JK
M/Kharkiv v Olympiacos FC
FC Twente v FC Schalke 04
Man United FC v Athletic Club
Standard Liège v Hannover 96
Sporting de Portugal v Man City
Valencia v PSV Eindhoven
(Matches To Be Played On 8 and 15 March, 2012)