Chelsea battle to 4-4 draw with nine-man Ajax in thriller
By Clare Lovell
LONDON (Reuters) - Chelsea battled to an incident-packed 4-4 draw with nine-man Ajax Amsterdam in the Champions League on Tuesday, with the hosts fighting back from 4-1 down after scoring two own goals.
Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek had put the visitors 4-1 up 10 minutes into the second half but Chelsea were allowed to stage a recovery as the Dutch side self-destructed.
Ajax, who reached the semi-finals last season, had looked faster and slicker from the start at Stamford Bridge but the match turned after their two centre backs were sent off inside a minute midway through the second half.
"I can't explain the game," relieved Chelsea coach Frank Lampard told BT sport. "The madness of the game, we are here for entertainment I suppose and anyone who watched that has to say what a game of football. Respect to Ajax, what a spectacle."
The result left both teams and Valencia, who beat bottom side Lille 4-1, on seven points at the top of the Group H standings in the battle for places in the last 16.
Two minutes into the match Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta gave away a free kick and Tammy Abraham deflected Quincy Promes's whipped cross into his own net.
The stadium fell eerily quiet with an empty away end after Ajax fans were banned by Europen soccer's governing body UEFA following crowd trouble in previous matches.
Less than three minutes later though Chelsea were level after U.S. forward Christian Pulisic surged into the Ajax area and was brought down. Jorginho calmly slotted home the penalty, sending keeper Andre Onana the wrong way.
But Ajax, who had won their last five Champions League away games, looked dangerous going forward. They were rewarded in the 20th minute when Moroccan winger Hakim Ziyech spun an inch-perfect cross into the area and Promes dived low to head home.
Another free kick and confusion in defence led to Ajax's third. Ziyech sent the ball from near the corner flag spinning towards the far post where keeper Kepa failed to track it. The ball rebounded off the woodwork and into the net via his face.
It was an embarrassing moment for the Spaniards who thumped the ground in frustration while Lampard watched immobile from the dug-out, his face like thunder.
The Chelsea manager clearly had a few words at halftime.
Chelsea came out flying after the break and looked to be building momentum but home hopes seemed crushed in the 55th when Ajax's wingers broke from their own half and Ziyech squared the ball for midfielder Van de Beek to poke home for 4-1.
The Dutch side were giving a masterclass in attractive, high tempo, attacking football and Chelsea were on the ropes.
But Azpilicueta got a goal back for the hosts with a close range flick in the 63rd and soon after Stamford Bridge erupted.
Ajax's Daley Blind was sent off for a second foul and Joel Veltman also saw red for a second infraction after handling in the area and arguing with referee Gianluca Rocchi.
Jorginho scored his second penalty in the 71st and Chelsea's substitute defender Reece James cut through a depleted defence to fire home an angled shot three minutes later to make it 4-4.
Azpilicueta then had a goal ruled out for a handball from Abraham in the area as Chelsea fought for a winner in a stirring last 15 minutes but Ajax held out to share the spoils.
"It was a crazy game," the 19-year-old James told BT Sport. "They were hard to break down and we took advantage of them going down to nine men, it was a shame we couldn't win."
"Scoring a goal is a bonus. The manager told me to come on and liven the boys up, we had chances to win it but from where we were at halftime it's a good result."
(Reporting by Clare Lovell; Editing by Ken Ferris)