Aftyer 31 years, Ajax returned to Estadio Da Luz on January 22 2003. It also meant the last time Ajax could play at this historical ground, as a new stadium is being built nearby for EURO 2004. Coach Ronald Koeman had labelled this match the most important one of the preparation for the second half of the season, in which Ajax have to make up the deficit with PSV. The match against Benfica ended in 1-1.
The most historical match in the stadium of Eusebio - who came out to greet the Ajax delegation before the match - Ajax played in February of 1969. Ajax had lost 1-3 in Amsterdam. But the impossible happened. A goal by Danielsson and two by Cruijff made it 0-3 after 32 minutes. Benfica scored in the second half and that made a decisive match on neautral ground necessary. Ajax won that match by 0-3.
Brand new Benfica coach José António Camacho a Real Madrid legend used the match to play new troops.
Ajax on the other hand played in its strongest line up, with O´Brien Koeman's favourite left back Galásek, Van der Vaart and Litmanen sidelined. For them, Van Damme, De Jong and Pienaar played.
The connection between defence and offence was not there yet. Pienaar had to foul a lot close to his own penalty area, a place where he does not play too often. Mido and Zlatan were deprived of good crosses. Trabelsi came close, but his final pass lacked precision. Van der Meyde played well at times, but his passes missed their mark too often.
After 25 minutes Ajax had a chance for the first goal, when Zlatan combined with Maxwell. The Brazilian's shot ended up in the hands of goalkeeper Bossio.
In the second half the teams managed to score. First Koeman brought on three new players: Trabelsi, Chivu and Mido went off; Pasanen, Petre and Wamberto came on.Yakubu replaced Bergdolmo ten minutes later, when the Norwegian had to leave with a head wound.
Benfica scored in the 73rd minute, when a free kick from the right found Ricardo Rocho's head. Zlatan, the best Ajax player on the night, levelled three minutes from time. It was his third goal in the preparation.
,,We did not play well", Koeman said. ,,We lost too many balls in the beginning, so we weren't really into it. The lads are a bit tired from the training camp and the pitch was soft and tough. I wanted to make three substitutions, but because Bergdolmo's wound required stitches, I had to bring on a fourth sub. But we have to play better, if we want to be ready for the second half of the league and the Champions League."