Luis Muriel confirmed his super-sub status by coming off the bench to give Atalanta the 1-0 victory away to 10-man Ajax and booking their place in the Champions League Last 16.
La Dea needed just a point to reach the Champions League Round of 16 for the second year in a row, but the build-up to this trip was filled with tension and rumours of an extraordinary locker room row between Papu Gomez, Josip Ilicic, and coach Gian Piero Gasperini. Nonetheless, Papu started here with Matteo Pessina in a more advanced role, as Mario Pasalic, Aleksei Miranchuk, and Mattia Caldara were injured. Ajax needed to win, but missed Daley Blind, Mohammed Kudus, David Neres and Lassina Traore, choosing to give 18-year-old striker Brian Brobbey his first senior start.
Ajax were very aggressive in the opening stages, but Atalanta slowly grew into the game and had the first real chance on 20 minutes. Duvan Zapata laid off a Gomez through ball for Marten de Roon to blast wide from the edge of the area.
Duvan Zapata also went on a mazy run from the right and rode two tackles, but the third from Perr Schurr’s was clean.
Ajax had more of the ball, but ultimately didn’t really have a shot on goal until stoppages, when Brobbey’s header from an Antony cross was straight at Pierluigi Gollini.
Brobbey made way for Quincy Promes after the restart and Gollini parried a Dusan Tadic strike, although the offside flag was up anyway in a very tight decision.
Remo Freuler wasted a potentially big opportunity when scuffing his finish just inside the penalty area. Matteo Pessina impressed with nutmeg to break away down the left and roll across for Duvan Zapata, but Lisandro Martinez made a decisive interception.
Moments later, it was a repeat, this time Pessina controlling a chipped Gomez pass over the top to pull back for Duvan Zapata, but again Ajax crucially cut it out for a corner.
On another corner, Onana flapped his clearance and Mazraoui used his body to charge down the Pessina follow-up in front of an open goal.
Berat Djimsiti almost ruined everything with a shocking back-pass and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar tried to pounce but went down easily under a Freuler nudge and the referee was in a perfect position to wave play on.
All through the game, Atalanta gave the ball away straight after winning it back, so never got the usual head of steam from a long period of possession.
Ajax thought they had scored when a quick series of one-touch passes sent Schuurs clear on goal, but Gollini made himself big and used his legs to parry one-on-one.
Just as Ajax were beginning to pin Atalanta back, the hosts went down to 10 men, as Ryan Gravenberch was perhaps harshly shown a second yellow card for going in with a slightly raised arm on Gomez, catching the much shorter man in the face.
Moments later, substitute Luis Muriel had the chance to win it on a Gomez cross but rushed the header over the bar.
Muriel didn’t make the same mistake twice, as he sprung the offside trap on a Freuler through ball, sprinted around the goalkeeper, and deposited into an empty net to give Atalanta the precious lead.
They had chances to add another in stoppages, but twice Hateboer didn’t make the right decision when in the penalty area. Timber also came on, played three minutes, and was injured.