Ajax beat Midtjylland to stay second in Champions League group

Soccer Football - Champions League - Group D - Ajax Amsterdam v FC Midtjylland - Johan Cruijff Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands - November 25, 2020 Ajax Amsterdam's Lassina Traore in action with FC Midtjylland's Dion Cools REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Ajax Amsterdam spurned a series of chances in the first half but scored quickly at the start of the second to beat Midtjylland of Denmark 3-1 on Wednesday and stay in second place in Champions League Group D.

Ryan Gravenberch struck a stunning long-range shot on target straight after the resumption to break the deadlock and Noussair Mazraoui added a second within 120 seconds to ensure the Dutch club moved up to seven points from their four matches in the group.

David Neres added a third goal in the 66th minute with a left-footed screamer, almost struck from outside the penalty area, while Midtjylland got a late consolation penalty through Awer Mabil.

Ajax are now only two points behind leaders Liverpool, and still just ahead on goal difference over Atalanta, who upset the English champions 2-0 at Anfield on Wednesday.

Lassina Traore missed two easy-looking chances in the first half, and struck the crossbar with a curling shot, while Zakaria Labyed was also close as Ajax failed to turn early dominance into goals.

But the 18-year-old Gravenberch enhanced his growing reputation as he thundered the ball home in the 47th minute, quickly followed by Mazraoui’s goal which came at the end of a long downfield run by the fullback, who was set up by a deft pass into his path from captain Dusan Tadic.

Brazilian Neres looked to go one better than Gravenberch with a strike from even further out, and with the left foot, to make it 3-0 to the home side at the Amsterdam Arena.

Mazraoui gave away a penalty when he tripped Australian international Mabil, who got up off the turf to convert the 80th-minute spot kick and reduce the deficit.

It was only the second goal in the group phase for the rookies, who remain without any points in the group and have been eliminated.

Midtjylland lost captain Eric Sviatchenko to a last-minute red card for pulling back on Neres when he was racing away towards goal.

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Clare Fallon)

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