Ajax survive Graz scare

The 1-1 at Grazer AK was not the worst result Ajax could have booked in the first match of the preliminary round of the UEFA Champions League. But the way the side performed in Austria, was a far cry from what coach Ronald Koeman likes to see of his team. After Ajax survived the Grazer storm in the first half, the home side took the lead in the second half. A Wesley Sneijder free kick made sure that Ajax's hopes of reaching the group stage are still very much alive.

Ronald Koeman took no risk with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had missed the most part of the preseason with a groin injury. Wesley Sonck started as the lone striker, between wingers Steven Pienaar and Wamberto. Yakubu played in midfield because Tomás Galásek had to pull out with an injury the day before the match.

GAK started furiously and had three big chances in the first minutes of play. The danger came from the dead-ball situations, from which the tall and strong Austrians were continually dangerous. For Ajax Wamberto missed from close range and Rafael van der Vaart, captain in Jari Litmanen's absence, missed a cross from Sonck by a toenail. But neither side managed a goal in the first half.

Ronald Koeman had pointed out to his team that GAK were always dangerous from free kicks and corners. But to no avail. Dollinger's free kick came to Pogatetz, who headed the ball past goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg. The home fans went wild and Ajax were close to folding.

Yet it was Ajax that scored in the 79th minute. Wesley Sneijder beat goalkeeper Schranz with a beautiful free kick, 1-1. After that, GAK's flair went out the door and the side seemed to fear Ajax for the first time. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, on for Wesley Sonck in the 64th minute, even had a few chances to give Ajax a win. But the tall Swede did not score. It would have been more than Ajax deserved. ,,We got better as the match went on, but I was not pleased with our performance today'', said Koeman. ,,We are not where we should be right now. However, even though we did not play well, I can live with the result.''