Preparations for the return match against Spartak Moscow were slightly frustrated on Wednesday by various inconveniences. A problem with a visa and heavy afternoon traffic in the Russian capital caused evening practice to be delayed. In the ensuing press conference manager Frank de Boer looked ahead with unbridled optimism. Just like Demy de Zeeuw, the Ajax manager is counting on a spot in the quarter finals of the EUFA Europa League.
The Ajax trainer believes his squad has the chance of winning the return match on artificial grass in Moscow. ,,I believe that if we create many opportunities again, like last week, we stand a good chance of going through to the quarter finals”, Frank de Boer explained during the press conference at the Luzhniki Stadium. On Thursday Ajax must play catch up after the 1-0 defeat they suffered in the ArenA. It’s the way they played in the home game that is giving them this faith and belief in themselves. ,,We won’t be making many changes to our game. We want to dominate again. And if we only get half of the opportunities we had in the ArenA, I still believe we can do it. Of course they do have the 1-0 advantage, so that leaves us no choice. But we’re focussed. I expect a similar match to last week’s.”
Miralem Sulejmani ran into a problem with his visa on arrival in Moscow on Wednesday. After a delay of several hours he was allowed into Russia. The Serb did however miss practice because of it. Sulejmani joined his team mates in the evening. ,,Of course I would have preferred to have Miralem here during practice”, De Boer said when his attacker was still being held up by Russian customs. ,,After all, practice is also about sensing and imagining what the match tomorrow might bring.” Frank de Boer’s car drive over from the players’ hotel with Demy de Zeeuw and press officer Miel Brinkhuis didn’t go as planned either. Heavy traffic and a curious short cut caused a delay. Because of that the press conference took place after practice for once, in stead of beforehand.
The press conference in the impressive stadium, which seats 84.000, was preceded by a short, but intensive practice. During evening practice the players and the trainers got used to the conditions in the Russian capital. The artificial grass in the Luzhniki Stadium is a reminder of the heroic Champions League final in 2008 in which Manchester United conquered Chelsea and former Ajax player Edwin van der Sar made his decisive save. The rain which influenced the final back then, had now made way for snow. The temperature in Moscow was below freezing. ,,The only disadvantage to this pitch is that Spartak plays on it on a weekly basis and we don’t”, De Boer continued. ,,But I’m not looking for an excuse here, this pitch could also serve us well. It’s just that we don’t play on artificial grass very often. Although I do think we have the same artificial grass at The Ajax Academy, but if you alternate between surfaces too often, you run the risk of injuries.”
Sulejmani’s ‘return’ to the selection, leaves the injured Maarten Stekelenburg as the only player who can’t be deployed by De Boer on Thursday. Gregory van der Wiel was kneed against his upper leg in the away game against Willem II. The right back player joined in with practice again and is fit to play. ,,Of course it’s a great loss when you’re missing one of the best goalkeepers in the world”, said Frank de Boer. ,,But I have a lot of faith in Jeroen (Verhoeven, ed.). Luckily Kenneth Vermeer is slowly coming back after an injury. He joined in with practice again yesterday.
,,It’s certainly not a bad pitch”, as Demy de Zeeuw had discovered during practice on the high quality pitch. ,,But a surface like this does make you change your game a bit. I expected it to be quite a bit colder here in Moscow, actually. It’s good weather to play in. We’re used to this kind of cold in Holland. And we know we can play well against Spartak Moscow. Out of the opportunities we get, one or two of them must lead to a goal this time.