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Chelsea ease into Champions League semis after Ajax draw

Chelsea eased into the Champions League semi-finals despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Ajax at Stamford Bridge – with a possible reunion against Barcelona awaiting them in the next round.

Emma Hayes’ Blues held a three-goal lead from the first leg in Amsterdam and a much-changed side made that four before half-time in front of over 11,000 fans in west London – with Mayra Ramirez opening the scoring on her Champions League debut for the club.

Chelsea faced a few first-half scares before Ramirez’s opener and were eventually pegged back when Chasity Grant finished below goalkeeper Zecira Musovic. The draw means the Blues are denied the chance to equal their best-ever European run of consecutive wins.

But, more importantly, they move into the last four of the Champions League, where Brann or Barcelona – who knocked Hayes’ Blues out of this competition last season in the semi-finals – await the Women’s Super League leaders. The semi-finals are scheduled for the weekends of April 20/21 and April 27/28.

Ramirez scored on her first Champions League start for Chelsea
Image: Ramirez scored on her first Champions League start for Chelsea

And Chelsea’s quest for a quadruple rumbles on – with the chance to win one of the four available trophies on Sunday when they play Arsenal in the Continental Cup final at Molineux.

Did you know?

Mayra Ramirez has now scored and assisted in all four competitions for Chelsea – despite only joining the club 62 days ago.

How Chelsea got the job done

This was no procession for Chelsea as Ajax started the stronger.

Captain Sherida Spitse headed onto the roof of the net, before Romee Leuchter fired wide from inside the box after muscling Kadeisha Buchanan off the ball. Chelsea then went close at the other end as Erin Cuthbert fired Aggie Beever-Jones’ cross wide at the near post – but Ajax kept coming.

Ajax's Tiny Hoekstra, Chelsea's Erin Cuthbert and Ajax's Jonna van de Velde battle for the ball
Image: Erin Cuthbert was one of seven changes made by Emma Hayes, with the Continental Cup final to come on Sunday

Chelsea goalkeeper Musovic, who had a few poor early touches of the ball, was nearly left red-faced when she clattered a Cuthbert back-pass straight into Tiny Hoekstra and the ball started rolling towards the goal line. Thankfully for the Swede, the ricochet just missed at the near post.

That chance gave Chelsea a wake-up call and Guro Reiten fired wide of the far post from inside the box after good work from Beever-Jones, who was then denied two one-on-one chances by last-ditch challenges from Spitse and Kay-Lee de Sanders.

But Chelsea’s opener finally came as Ajax gifted the ball too easily to Reiten, who slipped Ramirez in on goal to finish past Ajax goalkeeper Regina van Eijk.

Chelsea's Mayra Ramirez (right) celebrates scoring the opening goal against Ajax
Image: Ramirez (right) celebrates with Guro Reiten

The Colombian striker could have made it two as she met Beever-Jones’ delicious early cross – but could not get enough contact to tap home from a few yards out.

With potentially one eye on Sunday’s final with Arsenal, Chelsea were more relaxed after the break.

That allowed Ajax back into the second-half contest, with Hoekstra playing in Grant for a one-on-one, with her finish under Musovic bringing the Dutch side level on the night.

Ajax's Chasity Grant made it 1-1
Image: Ajax’s Chasity Grant made it 1-1

Ajax could have taken the lead – and consigned Chelsea to a rare defeat in 90 minutes – but found Musovic in inspired form. First, Leuchter cut inside brilliantly from the left and fired for the top corner, with Musovic pulling off a superb reflex save to deny her.

The Chelsea goalkeeper repeated the feat when substitute Danique Tolhoek tried a very similar move. Again, a stunning save matched a testing strike.

Catarina Macario came off the bench and nearly found a winner late on, but saw her effort saved by Van Eijk.

And Chelsea came through this routine assignment worry and injury-free – ahead of a mammoth season run-in to come.

When are the Champions League semi-finals?

April 20/21: Champions League semi-finals first leg

April 27/28: Champions League semi-finals second leg

May 25: Champions League final – San Mames, Bilbao

What’s next for Chelsea?

Emma Hayes now has a maximum of 11 matches remaining as Chelsea manager, with the club still hunting a historic quadruple between now and May 25.

Next up is the chase for them to lift the Continental Cup as they take on Arsenal in the final this Sunday at Molineux, kick-off 3pm.

Sky News
(c) Sky Sports 2024:Source