Ajax 0-1 Valencia: Rodrigo strike knocks out last season's semifinalist

Rodrigo Moreno was the star as Valencia topped Group H by virtue of a shock 1-0 win away to Ajax, which saw the latter ousted from the Champions League.

Match-winning strike: Valencia's Rodrigo Moreno scores his side's goal against Ajax in the Champions League on Tuesday.   -  AP Photo

Valencia progressed to the last 16 of the Champions League with a 1-0 win at Ajax, which will play in the Europa League in 2020 after finishing third in Group H.

Rodrigo Moreno scored the only goal in the first half as Albert Celades' men secured a surprise victory that means they finish top of the group, ahead of Chelsea in second spot, despite Gabriel's late red card.

Ajax reached the semifinal last season, knocking out Real Madrid and Juventus during a thrilling run, but it was edged out by the La Liga side at the Johan Cruijff Arena on Wednesday.

Rodrigo headed wide in the second minute but scored the decisive goal midway through the first half, taking advantage of Joel Veltman playing him onside. Ferran Torres shaped to shoot from outside the box but instead played a clever disguised pass into the feet of Rodrigo, who fired into the roof of the net.

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Jaume Domenech reacted well to keep out a cross-shot from Hakim Ziyech that looked to be curling inside the far post, then Andre Onana denied Rodrigo at the other end.

Rodrigo continued to offer Valencia's main threat and went close again in the 55th minute, and Ziyech wasted a clear chance from six yards as Ajax grew increasingly nervous. Noa Lang's acrobatic effort flew wide before Erik ten Hag sent on Klaas Jan Huntelaar, and Domenech had to save from Lisandro Martinez and Ziyech at the death.

Gabriel then saw red for appearing to headbutt Ajax captain Dusan Tadic in added time, but the 10 men held on to qualify.

What does it mean? Europa League beckons for Ajax

Ajax started the campaign with successive 3-0 wins, putting itself in a dominant position, but it will play in the Europa League next year despite collecting 10 points.

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The sales of Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt to Barcelona and Juventus respectively sapped the Eredivisie giant of its star power, with Valencia recovering from its 3-0 home loss in the reverse fixture to squeeze through.

Rodrigo stars in shock win

Spain striker Rodrigo hit the only goal in a 1-0 win away to Chelsea at the start of the group stage, and his strike on Tuesday again made the difference for Valencia.

Ziyech sitter costs Ajax

Few clear chances were created by the host, with the best of them falling to Ziyech midway through the second half. Set up by Donny van de Beek, Ziyech did not even hit the target from eight yards out, slicing his first-time shot wide of the post.

Key Opta Facts

- Valencia has topped its Champions League group for the first time since 2006-07 under Quique Sanchez Flores. It was knocked out at the quarterfinal stage by Chelsea that season.
- Ajax is the first side to fail to progress from its group stage despite earning 10 points or more since Porto in 2015-16.
- Having lost its previous home match 2-0 against Willem II in the Eredivisie, Ajax has lost consecutive home games in all competitions for the first time since February 2012 (a run of three).
- Ajax has also lost consecutive home matches within a single European Cup/Champions League season for the very first time.

What's next?

Real Madrid visits Valencia in La Liga on Sunday, the same day Eredivisie leader Ajax goes to AZ.

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