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2021-22 UEFA Champions League, Round of 16
  • Darwin Núñez (77')
2nd Leg - Benfica advance 3-2 on aggregate
2nd Leg - Benfica advance 3-2 on aggregate

Benfica beat Ajax to reach Champions League quarterfinals with late Nunez goal

Benfica's Darwin Nunez celebrates after scoring a goal against Ajax in the Champions League. Getty Images

Darwin Nunez struck late in the second half as Benfica beat Ajax Amsterdam on Tuesday night to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals on the back of a 3-2 aggregate win following a 1-0 victory in the second leg.

It was all to play for at the Johan Cruyff Arena as the teams came into the deciding leg of the tie level at 2-2 on aggregate after their match at the Estadio da Luz in Portugal on Feb. 23.

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The hosts had the better of possession and shots on goal in a cagey first half, but neither team could score and the game went into half-time locked in a 0-0 draw.

Ajax continued to force the issue in the second half, but it was Benfica that found the crucial first when Nunez outjumped defender Jurrien Timber and headed past an onrushing Andre Onana to stake his team to a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

The goal was Nunez's 26th of the season across all competitions for the Uruguay international and came on Benfica's only shot on target in the match.

"Obviously I'm very happy. It was a very difficult game, we knew we all had to run when it came time to defend and attack," Nunez said after the match. "We played against a team that plays very well, we knew we were going to suffer, we suffered, we had to defend but our team gave everything."

Benfica's veteran centre-back pair of Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi were a defensive wall that Ajax -- coming in as heavy favorites to advance -- were unable to break down, despite dominating possession and constantly attacking the visitors' goal.

Elimination was a bitter blow said home captain Dusan Tadic.

"We stopped all their efforts to counter-attack and then we lose from a free kick," Tadic said. "We didn't deserve to lose. We were the better team, but in Europe it's also about set pieces and counters. Then such a moment can be fatal."

The result sees Benfica -- into the last-8 for the fifth time in club history -- join Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid, who beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the day's other round-of-16 match, in the quarterfinals.

The remaining quarterfinal spots will be decided in Wednesday's last two round-of-16 second legs when Lille host Chelsea trailing 2-0 and Villarreal face Juventus in Turin with the tie level at 1-1.