Haller scores at both ends as Ajax force 2-2 away draw

 Haller scores at both ends as Ajax force 2-2 away draw

LISBON — Prolific striker Sebastien Haller was again among the goals as Ajax Amsterdam forced a 2-2 draw away at Benfica on Wednesday in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Not only did the lanky Haller score to take his tally in this season’s competition to 11 goals in seven games, but he also contributed an own goal in a pulsating clash at the Estadio da Luz.

The Dutch club were ahead after 18 minutes through captain Dusan Tadic, but an unfortunate own goal from Haller saw the scores level seven minutes later.

Ajax, however, did not take long to restore their lead as Haller made amends with a close-in finish in the 29th minute.

A second-half header from substitute Roman Yaremchuk ensured a draw for the hosts and a boost to their hopes in the second leg next month.

The action swung from one end of the pitch to the other in a high-tempo match with Ajax profiting from their pressing game and Benfica always looking dangerous on the counterattack.

It was a squeeze on fullback Gilberto, after a poor kick out from his goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos, that saw Ajax create the first goal as Noussair Mazraoui stole away possession and whipped in a cross that Tadic calmly side-footed home on the half volley.

Former Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen was at the heart of Benfica’s 25th-minute opener. He had two efforts blocked but persisted in chasing the ball in the penalty area, then whipped in a square ball that struck Haller and deflected into the Ajax net.

There was a touch of irony three minutes later as a deflection off Vertonghen was stopped by Vlachodimos but Haller was well placed to snap up the rebound and restore Ajax’s lead.

They should have gone into the break with a bigger lead, but Edson Alvarez hit the bottom of the upright with an angled shot on the stroke of halftime.

Benfica had several second-half breaks as Rafa Silva’s running offered them a way back into the tie. His 60th-minute pass to Darwin Nunez was missed by centimetres but Silva’s creativity set up the 72nd-minute equalizer.

He found Goncalo Ramos on the edge of the area, whose shot on goal was parried up into the air by Ajax goalkeeper Remko Pasveer and Yaremchuk ran through to power home the looping ball with his head.

Ajax host the return match at the Amsterdam Arena on March 15. — Reuters