Despite having defender Joël Veltman sent off early in the second half of their clash with Barcelona, Ajax held on for a 2-1 win. They were excellent throughout the first half, with the visitors unable to peg them back after a dogged defensive display in the second. Despite defeat Barça hold onto the top spot of Group H, while Ajax -- currently third -- know a win against AC Milan in their final match would be enough to progress through to the knockout stages.
Ajax were thoroughly impressive from the outset, pressuring Barcelona excellently in the opening few minutes. In a strange reversal of real life it was the Catalans who struggled to keep the ball, with Ajax proving to be rather unwelcoming hosts. Within 20 minutes the Amsterdammers had a deserved lead, after an excellent move culminated in Lasse Schöne's vicious low cross being converted by Thulani Serero.
It was nearly 2-0 within five minutes after Nicolai Boilesen found Schöne in space on the edge of Barça's penalty area, though the Dane lashed his shot over the bar. He went close again just past the half-hour, though the visitors' stand-in goalkeeper José Manuel Pinto managed to keep out his powerful free-kick.
Barça only threatened on sporadic counter-attacks, with things going bad to worse just three minutes before the halftime whistle. Davy Klaassen's long-range effort was palmed away by Pinto, though striker Danny Hoesen was on hand to steal the rebound and prod in for Ajax's second. Barcelona finished the half having failed to record a single shot on target, and deservedly two goals down.
As it turned out, they only needed a single shot to find the net. Just three minutes after the restart the game changed completely, as Neymar squirmed in behind the Ajax defense before being hacked down by defender Joël Veltman. The referee awarded a penalty and straight red card, and, of course, Xavi dispatched the spot-kick.
Unsurprisingly Barça seized control of possession and Ajax instantly retreated into a more conservative shape. Goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen didn't have a save to make in the first half, though was quickly forced into an excellent stop on Neymar's close-range attempt, as the hosts clung to their narrow advantage.
Despite the Catalan domination for the remainder of the match, the 10-men of Ajax bravely held onto their slim advantage. It's a crucial win, and means progression is still in their hands. A win away in Milan next month is now all that stands between them and the knockout stages.
Ajax: Cillessen; Boilesen (Poulsen 35'), Moisander, Veltman, van Rhijn; Serero, Blind, Klaassen; Fischer, Hoesen (Duarte 84'), Schöne (Denswil 51').
Goals: Serero (19'), Hoesen (41').
Red cards: Veltmen (48').
Barcelona: Pinto; Montoya, Mascherano, Piqué, Puyol (Patric 68'); Iniesta, Song, Xavi (Roberto 74'); Neymar, Fàbregas (Traoré 82'), Pedro.
Goals: Xavi (pen 49').