AC Milan: Europe's best in 2003

Ajax kick off a new season in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday 16 September 2003. That will happen on the place where last year Ajax's march through Europe came to such an unlucky halt: Milan. Ajax will face AC Milan, the reigning champs among European clubs. The red and black Associazione Calcio is also Ajax's best-known oponent in group H. The team from Amsterdam has played the six-time winner of the EC1/Champions League six times in European competition.

Ajax will face the Italian giants with mixed feelings. Thoughts of revenge, but maybe also the fear of playing well and yet losing again will play a part. Certainly for Rafael van der Vaart, who had to watch from the stands with a concussion last season.

Not much has changed for the Diavoli, the Devils as AC Milan are called sometimes, this season. And why would it, if you have had such a successful season as Carlo Ancelotti and his men had last year? The coach was very careful in buying new players. His team, with already four Brazilians - Rivaldo, Dida, Roque Junior and Serginho - was strengthened with two more 'Divine Canaries': Cafu was acquired from AS Roma and Kakà came to Milan from Brazil. Thomas Helveg left the side. The Dane returned to Internazionale after a period on loan with the fellow townsmen. One of the Brazilians left Milanello just before the close of the transfer window. Roque Junior was hired out to Leeds United.

Clarence Seedorf is still part of the club that was once a Dutch bastion with Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard in the squad. Seedorf last season played in the match between the two sides in the ArenA, but he had to miss the last AC Milan - Ajax with an injury sustained in the clash in Amsterdam. The midfielder with the Ajax background was recently left out of Holland's squad by coach Dick Advocaat for the important international matches against Austria and the Czech Republic, although he has quite a service record as a club player. This season he is the only player who has won the UEFA Champions League with three different clubs (Ajax, Real Madrid and AC Milan).

Until 2 september 2003, AC Milan had played two important matches. First the next opponent of Ajax won the European Super Cup by beating FC Porto in Monaco through a goal by Ukrainian striker Shevchenko. And 'Sheva' was again important for his coach Ancelotti four days later, when he scored both Milan's goals in the away match against Ancona. Last season Yakubu all but made Shevchenko invisible in Ajax's home match against the Italians.

The season has started well for AC Milan, who won the UEFA Champions League last season. Statistically it is remarkable that the team got that far. In official playing time (not counting match against Ajax, 3-2 in 93rd minute Tomasson) AC Milan booked their last victory within 90 minutes on February 25 of this year. Rivaldo, from the penalty spot, scored the only goal against Lokomotiv Moskow.

But that was then. Now it all starts again.With a new Ajax, who have to try, without Chivu and Van der Meyde but with Escudé, Grygera, Soetaers and Sonck, to right last year's wrong.

Results Ajax against AC Milan:

1968/1969 AC Milan - Ajax 4-1
1994/1995 Ajax - AC Milan 2-0
1994/1995 AC Milan - Ajax 0-2
1994/1995 Ajax - AC Milan 1-0
2002/2003 Ajax - AC Milan 0-0
2002/2003 AC Milan - Ajax 3-2

Results AC Milan in last year's Champions League:

group stage I
AC Milan - Lens 2-1
Deportivo - AC Milan 0-4
Bayern Munchen - AC Milan 1-2
AC Milan - Bayern Munchen 2-1
Lens - AC Milan 2-1
AC Milan - Deportivo 1-2

Group stage 2
AC Milan - Real Madrid 1-0
Dortmund - AC Milan 0-1
AC Milan - Lokomotiv Moskou 1-0
Lokomotiv Moskou - AC Milan 0-1
Real Madrid - AC Milan 3-1
AC Milan - Dortmund 0-1

Quarter final
Ajax - AC Milan 0-0
AC Milan - Ajax 3-2

Semi final
AC Milan - Internazionale 0-0
Internazionale - AC Milan 1-1

Final
AC Milan - Juventus 0-0
AC Milan win after penalties 3-2