ZURICH, (Reuters) – Manchester United scraped into the last 16 of the Europa League yesterday, narrowly avoiding a humiliating elimination after being outplayed and losing 2-1 at home to Ajax Amsterdam.
Not even a sixth minute opener from Javier Hernandez could inspire United as Aras Ozbiliz levelled eight minutes before the break and Toby Aldeweireld’s late header set up a nerve-wracking finale.
United manager Alex Ferguson took the blame for fielding too many young defenders after his side slunk through 3-2 on aggregate in only the second meeting of two of Europe’s most successful clubs.
They will face Atheltic Bilbao in the last 16 after the side led by eccentric former Argentina and Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa beat Lokomotiv Moscow 1-0, despite being reduced to 10-man, to qualify on away goals.
Atletico Madrid beat Lazio 1-0 to complete a 4-1 aggregate win and Valencia, Spain’s other representatives, beat Stoke City 1-0 to complete a 2-0 aggregate win.
Steaua Bucharest’s dream of reaching the final in their home city ended at Twente Enschede who were joined in the last sixteen by fellow Dutch side PSV Eindhoven.
“I’m disappointed, I’m responsible for picking the team and there were too many young players in the back four, that was a big problem in terms of experience,” said Ferguson in a television interview. “It was a big risk I took.”
“Ajax are a fantastic football team in terms of keeping the ball, they never looked like scoring (at first) but they got the goal and it gave them that encouragement.”
Although Ajax have not won a European trophy since 1995, they still have a more impressive tally than United with four European Cup titles, one Cup Winners’ Cup and one UEFA Cup.