Atletico’s rise was not initially apparent. Manchester coach Ralf Rangnick once again relied on his Portuguese attacking stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes. And the “Red Devils” got off to a much better start. Anthony Elanga should have taken the lead, but hit Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s temple from close range (13′). The Spaniards had big problems. Rodrigo de Paul almost turned the game upside down with a long-range shot. Goalkeeper David de Gea, once trained at Atletico, denied his ex-club a goal (16th).
Coach Diego Simeone gesticulated wildly on the sidelines and with success: After half an hour Atletico had a lot more of the game. A goal by Joao Felix was preceded by a narrow offside position by the Spaniards, the goal did not count. When Manchester then saw a foul on Elanga, the Madrilenians were already driving the counter-attack, which Brazilian left-back Lodi completed with a header from a Griezmann cross. British protests went unheeded.
Atletico knew how to manage the lead. Ronaldo, who was still successful with a triple pack at the weekend, remained ineffective. United came closer to equalizing after just under the hour with a Jadon Sancho volley but looked vulnerable when the Spaniards counter-attacked. Rangnick sent more offensive power onto the field with Edinson Cavani fifteen minutes before the end. The effort remained, as Oblak also saved against Raphael Varane (77th). Hard-nosed “Colchoneros” didn’t want to miss out on the ascent.
In Amsterdam, only one team played from the start in the sold-out Johan Cruyff Arena. Ajax cranked up the offensive, the guests from Lisbon had trouble resisting the vigor of the home side. Valentino Lazaro on the Portuguese bench and as a substitute in the finish also saw that the Dutch champions could not reward themselves despite the sometimes oppressive superiority. Benfica hardly allowed a shot on their own goal, goalkeeper Vlachodimos didn’t really have to show his skills.
Ajax goalscorer Sebastien Haller (11 CL goals) also bit his teeth in the Portuguese defense bar. The second half offered the same picture. However, when an overtime beckoned, the “Adler” struck from a set piece. Uruguayan striker Nunez headed in from a free-kick, but Ajax keeper Andre Onana did not do well. The subsequent last rush of the hosts remained ineffective afterwards.