Benfica came from behind twice to hold Ajax to a 2-2 draw in the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 clash Wednesday, with Sebastien Haller scoring for both teams in the first half.
The prolific Ivory Coast striker now has 11 goals for Ajax in his first seven Champions League matches, the highest tally ever by a debutant in Europe’s top club competition.
But it was not enough to secure Ajax’s seventh straight Champions League victory.
Captain Dusan Tadic put Ajax ahead in the 18th minute, placing a volley past Odisseas Vlachodimos in the Benfica goal after a cross from the right by Noussair Mazraoui.
Haller deflected a hard, low cross by former Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen into his own net to bring the scores level in the 26th minute but made amends just three minutes later when he tapped home a rebound to continue his scoring streak.
He could have given Ajax a comfortable two-goal cushion shortly before half-time but only managed to steer the ball wide from close range after Edson Alvarez hit the post.
In the group phase, Haller became the first man to score 10 goals in his first six games in Europe’s top-tier competition as Ajax won all their matches. But the Amsterdam club struggled in Lisbon as Benfica threatened throughout the second half with its quick breaks.
A deflected shot by Everton went wide in the 55th minute and Darwin Nunez just failed to get on the end of a cross by Rafa Silva five minutes later. It was a rare failure by Nunez, who has scored 23 times across all competitions this season.
The pressure finally paid off when Remko Pasveer saved a powerful shot by Goncalo Ramos and substitute Roman Yaremchuk beat Steven Berghuis to the ball to head home Benfica’s second equalizer of the night in the 72nd minute.
Benfica were playing their first Champions League game under Nelson Verissimo, who took over after Jorge Jesus was fired despite leading the Lisbon club into the knockout stage from a group that included Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
The evening’s other round-of-16 match also ended in a draw, 1-1 between Atletico Madrid and Manchester United.