Ronald Koeman and Carlo Ancelotti agreed after the delightful Champions League quarter final match between Ajax and AC Milan. The scoreless draw offers good perspective for both parties. ,,Everything is still open", AC Milan's coach said. ,,We are not without a chance", Koeman thought. ,,But the odds are still in favour of AC Milan."
Eight season ago, Ajax and AC Milan met three times. Milan went scoreless through all three matches. Today, they did not manage to make a goal either. AC Milan hardly created any chances, but contrary to the 1994-1995 season the Italian team are in a better position for the return. Back then, that match in Amsterdam finished 2-0 for Ajax, with one goal by Jari Litmanen. This time it stayed 0-0.
The only players remaining from that time are Jari Litmanen for Ajax and Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta on the side of Milan. For Clarence Seedorf the match meant a unlucky homecoming in Amsterdam. After 25 minutes he had to leave the pitch with a knee injury.
AC Milan had had few chances up to that time. Only in the fifth minute coach Carlo Ancelotti's team was dangerous with an effort by Shevchenko. He fired from the right, but Lobont and Pasanen were in time to avert the danger. Pasanen was flawless in the first half.
But the best player on the pitch had to be Yakubu. The Ghanese international had a free role as an extra central defender and was hardly reckoned with by Milan for most of the first half. Only in the closing minutes of the first half Gattuso went on to play Yakubu, who came forward regularly and was always open to receive passes. ,,Yakubu was the best player on the night", Koeman agreed. ,,He was really fantastic!"
The Italians couldn't but look on as Ajax took more and more control over the match. The combinations by the home side were fluid and a joy to behold.
Ajax's only flaw in the first half was that they did not manage to score. Although the home side played their best football before halftime, the biggest chance came after an hour.
Steven Pienaar broke through on the right. He seemed to doubt between a cross and a shot. His effort ended up at the second post, where Rafael van der Vaart missed the ball by a toe's lenght.
No great chances were created after that. Koeman: ,,We played well, but you always want to score at home."
To try and break the deadlock, Koeman brought on Litmanen and Sneijder. Litmanen came on for Zlatan, of whom the coach said afterwards that he was too static in the first half but much better in the second. Playing a full match was not yet possible for the Swedish striker after his injury. ,,I know it's hard for Litmanen, to come on in such a match after being injured for three months. Maybe he hasn't got his rhythm back yet, but you always hope for one or two moments, because you know he can have those in such a game."
Ajax could not afford to be booked. Lobont, Chivu, Zlatan, Pienaar, Van der Vaart and De Jong would all have been suspended for the return if they would have received a yellow card. But Ajax managed without having to resort to serious fouls. AC Milan's Gattuso on the other hand, was booked and he will have to miss the return in the San Siro stadium.
In the closing stages of the match Koeman had to take off one of his towers of strenght. Petri Pasanen had been hit on the right knee. Until the 74th minute, the Finn had formed a great couple with the also terrific Cristian Chivu. Nigel de Jong replaced Pasanen and went on to play on Yakubu's spot. ,,It's good to have De Jong and Sneijder for that position, but we needed someone like Yakubu before our defence. I think he has proven that he earned that spot", Koeman praised his player.
Koeman is eagerly looking forward to the return in Milan. ,,Although the odds still favour Milan, we'll go there with a lot of confidence. This 0-0 is fine for them, but we are able to score anywhere." Koeman will also be able to play Andy van der Meyde again, who made such a great goal in Rome. The winger sat out his one-game suspension on Tuesday.
Milan's coach Ancelotti was also happy with the draw. ,,It is a positive result for us. We defended well, but failed to create chances. We weren't agressive, but that was also because we allowed Ajax to control the match."
And the return? ,,We always play well at home", Ancelotti said. ,,But it's all open. For both teams."