ATHENS (AP) — Dusan Tadic scored twice in the second half Tuesday to take Ajax to the last 16 in the Champions League for the first time in 12 years with a 2-0 win over 10-man AEK Athens, in a match marred by fan violence in and around the stadium.
The Serb defender scored from the penalty spot in the 68th minute after Marko Livaja received a second yellow card for handling the ball. He struck again four minutes later, tapping in an unselfish pass from substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar.
AEK had managed to keep Ajax at bay thanks to the unyielding center-back duo of Dmytro Chygrynskiy and Marios Oikonomou, but struggled after losing Livaja.
AEK fell to its fifth straight loss in the competition. The host’s best chance came four minutes before the end of the match when a powerful shot on target from Lucas Boye forced an athletic save from Andre Onana.
The game was preceded by violence inside Athens’ Olympic Stadium and in parts of central Athens, mostly involving Greek fans who clashed with local rivals and riot police. Moments before the match started, riot police charged into the stands to break up AEK fans who hurled flares and smoke canisters. Police reported no injuries or arrests, although images seemed to show one fiery explosion going off near a section of supporters.
Four-time European champion Ajax returned to the Champions League group stage this season for the first time in four years. The team’s 19-year-old captain, Matthijs de Ligt, was only 6 the last time Ajax made it out of the group stage.
“That was so long ago, so it’s really tremendous for this to be happening again,” he said. “We were happy to make it to the Champions League, but sometimes we surprise ourselves and exceed our own expectations.”
The center-back said Ajax is now hoping to overtake Bayern Munich at the top of Group E.
“It would be great for us to come out of the winter break in the top spot,” he said. “Now that’s what we will fight for.”
By DEREK GATOPOULOS , Associated Press