AMSTERDAM: Ajax Amsterdam coach Erik ten Hag told back-up keeper Kjell Scherpen to keep his head up after his error gifted AS Roma an equaliser in their Europa League quarter-final but conceded his side face a huge task to overturn Thursday's 2-1 home defeat.
Ajax led through Davy Klaassen’s goal shortly before halftime and should have gone 2-0 up after the break but Dusan Tadic's penalty was saved.
Scherpen then allowed Lorenzo Pellegrini's free kick to slip through his hands before Roger Ibanez scored two minutes from time to give Roma the first-leg victory and end a run of 24 matches without defeat for Ajax, who are chasing a domestic league and cup double as well as Europa League success.
“We had a firm grip on the game," said the Ajax coach. "We had the game under control and it didn't look like we were going to concede a goal."
Scherpen, deputizing for injured veteran Maarten Stelekenburg, was making only his third start for the club and Ten Hag was careful not to put too much of the blame on him.
“I told him after the game to keep his head up. He kept a good match, but if you make a mistake as a goalkeeper, it is often a goal,” he added.
“You have to learn to deal with that ... . He has many qualities, but at this level you cannot afford these kinds of mistakes.”
Ajax will need to score at least twice in Rome to stand any chance of a semi-final meeting with either Manchester United or Granada.
"It will be a hell of a job to turn it around, but we can play at this level and we have a chance if we reach the same level as we did in the first leg,” added Ten Hag.
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Peter Rutherford)