Chelsea ease past Ajax to reach UWCL semifinals

Chelsea eased into the Champions League semifinals for the third successive season after a 1-1 draw in the second leg of their quarterfinal against Ajax, saw them go through 4-1 on aggregate.

The three-goal cushion Emma Hayes' side entered the clash with meant they rarely had to step out of second gear at Stamford Bridge, with Mayra Ramírez's first-half strike crushing whatever feeble hopes Ajax had of a comeback.

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Chastity Grant's goal in the second half was a deserved reward for a spirited Ajax side, who never threatened to turn around the tie but came close to winning on the night.

A semifinal showdown with Barcelona potentially lies in the offing for Chelsea if the Champions League holders can overcome Brann in the second leg of their quarterfinal on Thursday.

"If you look at our record in the Champions League, even in the last five years, it was only once we didn't qualify from the group," Hayes told reporters afterward. "We've made the latter stages every year. We expect to be here, I should say that. I don't make any excuses, we should be at this level and we should be at the semifinals.

"Of course we have a little bit more depth -- to be able to do things like make six changes tonight -- than we've ever had. But we haven't won anything, we're in the place we want to be. I don't know who the opponent will be but we're ready."

The Champions League is the one trophy that has eluded Hayes in her time at Chelsea and progression into the semifinal keeps alive her hopes of completing the set and also maintains her side's push for the quadruple.

With one eye on Sunday's Conti Cup final against Arsenal, Hayes fielded a heavily rotated side with seven changes from the starting lineup that beat West Ham in the Women's Super League on Sunday.

Goalkeeper Zecira Musovic, who has lost her place in the team to Hannah Hampton, made her first start since December and had a near inauspicious return after an early Sherida Spitse shot nearly caught her off her line.

The Sweden international never inspired confidence in goal and was spared blushes in the 18th minute when she was closed down by Tiny Hoekstra and saw her attempted clearance ricochet off the Ajax forward onto the post.

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Just moments earlier, the Dutch side had another gilt-edged chance, when Romée Leuchter turned sharply on the box and saw her shot fizz inches wide off the post.

Like they did in the first leg, Ajax began brightly and looked the more likely side to score. But the lack of clinical finishing again proved to be their Achilles heel. It's a quality Chelsea possess in spades.

Ajax's attacking thrust left them susceptible on the break and in the 32nd minute, a perfectly weighted through ball from Guro Reiten played in Ramirez, who calmly slotted home. It was Chelsea's first shot on target in the game.

Ramirez's performance in her withdrawn forward role will encourage Hayes and excite Chelsea fans -- the sharpness of her movement seemed to indicate she'd put her recent injury problems behind her.

"I'm happy for Mayra; it's her [European] debut," Hayes said. "She was really excited about tonight. Happy for the goal. [She has given] me selection problems for the weekend.

Four goals ahead on aggregate, Chelsea took their foot off the gas in the second half while the visitors rediscovered the tempo they'd shown at the start of the game.

Ajax found return for their endeavours in the 65th minute after Grant's shot from a Hoekstra through-ball squirmed under Musovic.

Suzanne Bakker's side rid themselves of the tepidness that had gripped them in the first leg and played with greater confidence in the second half, as was evidenced by Spitse's shot from near the half line after she spotted Musovic momentarily off her line.

The Chelsea goalkeeper's moment of redemption came in the 80th minute, when she dived full stretch to get a hand on Leuchter's shot from inside the box that seemed destined to make the net ripple.

She followed it up with another stunning save to deny Danique Tolhoek's shot from the edge of the box.

Ajax's drive kept Chelsea honest, but ultimately they couldn't bridge the obvious gap in quality that exists between the two sides.

"We could have scored more in the first half but when you make so many changes, you have to expect there's a disruption," Hayes added. "Both sides of the board, I felt that was probably the case throughout the game. But first half, [we were] 4-0 up [on aggregate]. I think, maybe second half for sure, they had to go for it. We relaxed a little, it became too transitional.

"But we're through, and I'll focus on that. We love winning."

Information from ESPN's Emily Keogh contributed to this report.