AMSTERDAM: Former European Cup winners Ajax Amsterdam stayed firmly on course to reach the Champions League group stage after a dazzling first half helped them to a 3-1 home win over Dynamo Kyiv in the first leg of their playoff round tie on Wednesday.
Greek champions AEK Athens also put themselves in the driving seat with a 2-1 win at Hungary’s Vidi FC while Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb ground out a 1-1 draw at Swiss champions BSC Young Boys.
Roared on by a fervent crowd in the Johan Cruyff Arena, Ajax raced into a second-minute lead after Dušan Tadić teed up Donny van de Beek to side-foot home a low shot which squeezed under keeper Denys Boyko’s body.
Dynamo levelled in the 16th minute when right-back Tomasz Kędiora tapped in a rebound after Ajax goalkeeper André Onana parried Tamás Kádár’s thumping header from a corner.
Kadar was at fault for Ajax’s second goal as a seemingly innocuous shot by Morocco midfielder Hakim Ziyech brushed his head and left Boyko stranded in the 35th minute.
Serbia winger Tadić made it 3-1 with a goal of the highest quality in the 43rd minute, superbly steering home an inviting cross by left-back Nicolás Tagliafico.
Ajax could have won by a larger margin as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ziyech hit the woodwork with Dynamo subdued and barely able to get out of their own half.
Vidi and AEK each had a player sent off and the Greek side benefitted soon after the home team’s striker Szabolcs Huszti was shown a straight red card for a reckless foul midway through the first half.
Viktor Klonaridis fired AEK ahead when he tucked the ball away from point-blank range in the 34th minute and Tasos Bakasetas doubled the lead early in the second half with a deflected shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Bakasetas was also given his marching orders after being shown a second yellow card befpre Danko Lazović pulled one back for Vidi with a neat finish.
Young Boys looked set to run riot after a Kevin Mbabu goal in the second minute gave them the lead against Dinamo but paid the price for missing a flurry of chances.
Dinamo keeper Danijel Zagorac made several fine saves before Mislav Oršić equalised in the 40th minute, racing clear of his markers after he was put through by Izet Hajrović.
Dinamo missed two chances inside a minute as Hajrović rattled the post before Oršić’s vicious shot from 18 metres was superbly saved by David von Ballmoos.