Chelsea Women 1-1 Ajax Women (agg 4-1): Emma Hayes' side reach Champions League semis after Mayra Ramirez goal

by 24britishtvMarch 28, 2024, noon 22
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Chelsea are "ready" to face anyone in the Champions League semi-finals, according to Emma Hayes, after easing past Ajax to line up a possible reunion against Barcelona.

Chelsea were held to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge but went through 4-1 on aggregate.

Hayes' Chelsea 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.
• How the teams lined up | Match stats

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.

"If you look at our record in the Champions League, even in the last five seasons, it's only once we didn't qualify for the group and reached the latter stages every year," manager Hayes said at full-time.

"We should be at this level, we should be at the semi-finals. We have a little bit more depth now to make six changes and do what we did tonight.

"We haven't won anything, I don't know who the opponent will be. But we're ready."

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Hayes: Ramirez has given me squad headache for cup final

"I'm happy for Mayra, it's her debut. She was excited about tonight and happy for the goal. She gives me selection problems for the weekend!

"We love winning. I love saying this to the players, I don't care who scores. We have to count on everyone almost throughout the season.

"I trust the squad and I trust the players. Some absolutely needed to recover this evening, I'm really happy for the whole squad.

"We have more diversity in the squad. More attacking options. More variety, that's probably at the heart of it. More experience.

"We've been at the latter stages so many times. We know where we have to be to play in those sort of games."

When are the Champions League semi-finals?

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.

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