AMSTERDAM (AP)Liverpool advanced to the knockout stage of the Champions League with three quick goals before and after halftime to beat Ajax 3-0 on Wednesday.
Mohamed Salah opened the scoring with a neat finish in the 42nd minute, Darwin Nunez doubled the lead with a header four minutes into the second half and Harvey Elliott made it 3-0 with a powerful shot into the roof of the net in the 52nd as Liverpool awoke from a slow start to sweep aside Ajax at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk thought it was a good night’s work.
”In the end we won 3-0, progressed to the next round and kept a clean sheet,” he told Dutch television station RTL7.
The hosts squandered two good chances in the first half before Liverpool seized the initiative. Steven Berghuis hit the post from close range in only the third minute after being set free by a short pass from Brian Brobbey. The young striker, who has been included in Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal’s provisional World Cup squad, then set up Dusan Tadic in the 36th but the Ajax captain fired straight at Trent Alexander-Arnold.
From then on, it was all Liverpool. A pass with the outside of his right foot by Jordan Henderson found Salah in space between Daley Blind and Calvin Bassey, and the Egypt striker flicked the ball past Remko Pasveer for his sixth goal of the Champions League campaign.
”Sensational pass from Hendo, then Mo’s finishing is outstanding,” said Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp.
Nunez, back from a muscle injury, should have doubled the lead shortly before halftime, but his shot hit the post. He made no mistake after the break when he held off defender Jorge Sanchez and headed home a corner.
Salah turned provider for Elliott, who ran onto the Egyptian’s pass and fired a powerful shot past Pasveer to complete the scoring.
Defender Andy Robertson told BT Sport that Salah’s goal eased Liverpool nerves.
”We settled down after that and started to play our football. It’s always nice to get through before the last game,” he said.
The one possible shadow over Liverpool’s evening came as Henderson limped off in the 71st minute.
Napoli, which had already qualified for the knockout stage ahead of Wednesday’s Group A matches, beat Rangers 3-0.
”It is really painful because I think first half we played better,” Tadic said.
Ruing the missed chances, he added: ”I think if we scored the goals, it’s a different game.”
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