Ajax aiming for second place

Ajax aiming for second place

An important Champions League match against Auxerre awaits Ajax on Wednesday evening. Martin Jol’s team can assure itself of the group’s third place with a win in France, guaranteeing a European winter break in the Europa League. But Ajax is aiming for more. “We want second place. But for that, we’ll need to bring in many points.”

Ajax plays in the Stade de l’Abbé Deschamps for the fourth time on Wednesday evening. They’ve been AJ Auxerre’s guests three previous times. In 1993 and 2005, the visits ended in defeat. Ajax posted their only victory in Burgundy in 1996. The last meeting against the French team marked Urby Emanuelson’s debut. From the current selection, Maarten Stekelenburg and Rasmus Lindgren also saw action during that game. Teemu Tainio was Auxerre’s midfielder at the time, and he played there for seven years. It was a hearty reunion with old friends for the Finn, as he walked onto the field for the training.

Jol describes Auxerre as a ‘club which is difficult to play’. Despite the fact that the French league’s number 10 placed team has yet to win a point after three Champions League group matches, he doesn’t underestimate them. But the fact is that if Ajax wins on Wednesday night, Auxerre is out, and the team from Amsterdam will make it through the Europa League winter break. For these last two group matches, second place is also potentially within reach. Jol: “Things will be easier for us if we win here. They want to get third place, we want to get second place. But we need to bring home many more points in this group in order to make that happen.”

Compared to the match in Amsterdam between the two teams, suspended Auxerre captain Dennis Oliech and André Ooijer will not be in the lineup. Both players are out with red cards. “Oliech’s absence will be a big miss for Auxerre. But they definitely have alternatives with other strong offensive players”, commented Jol. Ajax’s coach is also confident about his own alternatives for Ooijer. Either Toby Alderweireld or Oleguer could stand in on defence. During the press conference, Jol was noncommittal, although he did say that Oleguer had requested to not play with a protective mask. Vurnon Anita, side lined with a hamstring injury for Sautrday’s game against Heracles, participated in the training. Demy de Zeeuw, also absent against Heracles due to a muscle strain in his right leg, was part of the practice session as well. “I feel like Demy can play”, said Jol about the midfielder, who had a strong performance during the home game against Auxerre and scored the opening goal.

Even referee Mark Clattenburg was discussed before the training. The Englishman was unwittingly a key player in last weekend’s much talked about match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. Former PSV keeper Gomes had a peculiar experience when Nani scored. Everyone was sure that play had stopped, except the Portuguese attacker and the referee. To everyone’s surprise, the Englishman allowed the goal. “Of course he’s the centre of attention right now. That incident has been debated all over the world. But it doesn’t say much about the referee. I know him from my time in England, and I’ve never see him do anything odd”, said Jol about the referee, who will lead his first Champions League match.

In addition to three points, Ajax will also be hunting for its one hundredth Champions League victory. After Suarez’s goal in the first game against Auxerre, the counter is at 99 goals. Perhaps Mounir El Hamdaoui will have the honour of scoring the one hundredth goal. The Moroccan has been in outstanding form, and scoring stunning goals. He remains grounded when asked about the honour of scoring Ajax’s hundredth goal at the top European level. “The most important thing on Wednesday night is to win. It doesn’t matter who scores the goals.”

Auxerre – Ajax begins on Wednesday at 8.45pm.
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