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  • By Alessandro Schiavone

Ex-Watford star Joao Pedro flatters to deceive at home of former Ajax great Ibra as Brighton win 2-0

Photo: Wikimedia Commons (Ibra), Alessandro Schiavone (Joao Pedro)

By Alessandro Schiavone at Johan Cruijff Arena, Amsterdam

Ajax 0-2 Brighton & Hove Albion (Goals: Ansu Fati, Adingra)

Joao Pedro was born 88 days after Zlatan Ibrahimovic officially joined Ajax from Malmo in 2001. And it almost felt like last night he was in awe of the hallowed pitch the one-time Swedish superstar graced for three years.

Amsterdam was Ibrahimovic’s second European address and likewise it was Brazilian Pedro’s second European game on his travels. But unlike in the reverse fixture, the ex-Watford man’s name didn’t appear on the Johan Cruijff Arena’s scoreboard. Looking at the bigger picture, the 22-year-old former Hornet’s all-round play was carried out at a pretty high standard. Whether it was his hold-up ability which enabled his teammates to progress high up the pitch or his propensity for dropping deep to receive the ball and link the play, Pedro certainly played his part in the Seagulls’ first-ever European away win.

Him releasing Kaoru Mitoma with a lovely-weighted pass midway through the second period summed up his generosity. And Roberto De Zerbi can certainly be satisfied with how things went in the Dutch capital. Yet knowing the Italian perfectionist, it’s likely that Pedro’s missed chances will take the gloss of his overall assessment of the night.

After being yellow carded for an innocuous elbow on Ajax’s Kenneth Taylor, he had the chance to double Brighton’s lead. He cleverly latched on to a loose ball on the halfway line, charged forward at full pace, leaving a number of Ajax defenders for dead with a confident shoulder drop. And while Ibrahimovic would have been proud of his stunning solo run and refined technical skills, at the same time he would have rolled his eyes at his tame finish, with Pedro blasting a left footer miles off target.

At the start of the second 45 minutes, with Brighton 1-0 up, he amazed the Seagulls fans with his dribbling artistry and speed of thought, dancing through the diabolical Ajax in Ibra-esque style before frustratinly smashing the ball against the side netting. Ibra? He scored one of the greatest goals in Ajax history by taking NAC Breda’s defence to the cleaners with a number of tricks, flicks, slaloms and dummies which were followed by an ice-cool finish after sitting the keeper down.

Would Pedro be able to replicate that majestic piece of work? He’d probably have undone it all by the time of pulling the trigger. That said the answer is ‘no’, and there’s not much point beating around the bush.

That also explains why (with all due respect) he joined Brighton & Hove Albion and not Juventus. But similar to Ibrahimovic, who remains in another league, Pedro has that footballing arrogance and self-assuredness of the former Manchester United superstar. On the ball he acts superior, treats his opponents like air, is aware of his surroundings and has the kind of dazzling technique that is his career oyster. Yet even though may have netted four goals in four Europa League games, his end product still leaves something to be desired. And if he works on his finishing, like Ibra did after leaving Ajax to work under Fabio Capello with the Old Lady from Turin, he can go the distance…

As for the game, a quarter of an hour into it, Europa League freshers Brighton stunned the Johan Cruijff Arena when Barcelona loanee Ansu Fati clinically drilled a low shot into the far corner after being teed up by Simon Adingra. And the Spaniard returned the favour to his partner-in-crime with a delicious assist into space on 53 minutes. The Ivorian then arrowed his effort into the top corner. Ajax were unlucky when Brobbey hit the post from range before Akpom fired straight at Dutch international Bart Verbruggen, who enjoyed a rather quiet evening on his return to his homeland.


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