Cristiano Ronaldo scored on his return from injury but it was not enough to hand Juventus victory as a spirited Ajax side battled for a 1-1 draw in the Champions League quarter-final first leg at the Johan Cruyff ArenA.
The Portuguese star headed home with just seconds to go before the interval to give the Old Lady a vital away goal ahead of the second leg in Turin next week. But David Neres’ stunning strike 30 seconds after the restart rescued a deserved draw for the hosts.
Ronaldo was passed fit to start in Amsterdam after recovering from an injury sustained during the international period. But he struggled to get into the game in the early stages as Ajax came fast out of the blocks.
After Federico Bernadeschi went close from 25 yards, Hakim Ziyech nearly opened the scoring at the other end but his shot hit the side netting.
Ajax were playing some really entertaining football and nearly scored a goal of the season contender when Dusan Tadic and Ziyech combined, but the Moroccan’s curling effort was tipped over by Wojciech Szczesny.
Another chance for the hosts went begging when Donny van de Beek turned away from his marker and fired wide from inside the area.
But Ajax’s pressure mattered little when Ronaldo made his presence known in the game with a one-two with compatriot Joao Cancelo. He ran the best part of 40 yards to get into the box and after the wing-back delivered a perfect cross, Ronaldo powered a bullet header past Andre Onana.
That was Ronaldo’s eighth goal in five games against Ajax and his 24th quarter-final goal in 20 appearances, highlighting again how he stepped up to the big occasion. But if anything, the goal gave Ajax the push they needed to fight back and they did provided an instant response 30 seconds after the restart.
Cancelo gave the ball away cheaply on the left and the rapid Brazilian David Neres raced away before diving inside Daniele Rugani and he hit a sweet right-footed curler into the far corner, leaving Szczesny with no chance.
The Dutch giants had the bit between their teeth and continued to pile on the pressure as Tadic and Tagliafico went close.
Juventus felt they should have had a penalty when Rugani was tugged back by Tagliafico, who will miss the second leg after picking up a booking. But after consulting VAR, referee Carlos del Cerro Grande stood by his original decision.
As the visitors looked to protect their away goal, the game appeared to be fizzling out until 19-year-old Jurgen Ekkelenkamp, on as a substitute, nearly had a game to remember but his shot was saved by Szczesny.
Juventus nearly stole it late on when Douglas Costa, who came on for Mario Mandzukic, danced around two Ajax players before striking the woodwork from 20 yards out. But it would end with the honours even with Ajax left to rue their missed chances ahead of the second leg in Turin next week.