Sebastien Haller will bid to continue his remarkable scoring record in this season’s Champions League when his Ajax side face Benfica in the first leg of their last-16 draw on Wednesday.
Ajax will face Benfica at the Estadio da Luz when they return to Lisbon, where Haller scored four goals in his Champions League debut when the league champions defeated Sporting 5-1 on the roadside at Jose Alvalade in September.
Ivory Coast international Haller scored 10 times in the group stage and became just the second player to net in all six group matches in a Champions League campaign after Cristiano Ronaldo in 2017.
“If you asked me before the competition if I would score that many goals, I would of course say no,” Haller told Ajax TV ahead of the knockout stage of the European elite club competition.
“I was already happy with it. I score one goal in the Champions League and my life is over.”
Haller, who is 27, was the first player to score fourfold on his debut in the league since Marco van Basten in 1992 and his goals helped Ajax lead the group with maximum points, passing Sporting, Borussia Dortmund and Besiktas at home and away defeat.
His 10-goal tally puts him one ahead of Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski in the league’s scoresheets and is as much as Dortmund’s Erling Haaland managed last season when he finished as the Champions League’s leading striker.
“Ten is okay, it’s a good number because we created a lot of chances. I could have scored more but 10 is a really great number,” added Haller.
Signed to West Ham United in January last year, French-born Haller recently marked his 50th appearance for Ajax with a hat-trick of close-range finishes in a 5-0 hammer blow to FC Twente.
He has scored 28 goals in 28 games across all competitions this season, including six in four games since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, where Côte d’Ivoire went on to face Egypt in the last 16.
– Goals guaranteed? †
Haller was not among the goals, however, as Erik ten Hag’s side won 1-0 at Willem II this weekend to maintain a five-point lead over PSV Eindhoven at the top of the Dutch Eredivisie and take 10 consecutive wins in all competitions .
Ajax has been shaken off the field by the recent resignation of sporting director Marc Overmars after he admitted to sending a “series of inappropriate messages” to female colleagues.
But on the field, Ten Hag’s side once again threatens deep into the Champions League, three years after they reached the semi-finals with Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, their young stars.
A team in which Dusan Tadic, Brazilian international Antony, Davy Klaassen and Steven Berghuis also conduct great campaigns, are favorites to beat Benfica in a meeting of two clubs with six European Cups in between.
Benfica qualified from their group at the expense of Barcelona, but coach Jorge Jesus was sacked in late December, with Nelson Verissimo replacing him.
Since then, Benfica lost the League Cup final to Sporting, falling 12 points behind Portuguese leaders Porto.
However, they can boast of a prolific striker in Uruguay’s Darwin Nunez, who has scored 23 goals this season, including a brace in September’s 3-0 demolition of Barcelona.
Whatever the outcome over the two legs, it is a draw that should guarantee goals.