Ajax belongs with Champions League

Ajax belongs with Champions League

A sold out Amsterdam ArenA will be the stage on Wednesday night for the all-important Champions League play off return match against Dinamo Kiev. After the 1-1 tie in the Ukraine, Ajax must secure the group phase of Champions League on its own turf. Martin Jol and Demy de Zeeuw looked ahead on Tuesday afternoon.

With the Amsterdam ArenA already clad in the Champions League’s famous house style, the press, Jol and De Zeeuw met at the Toekomst Sports Complex. Seven cameras registered their thoughts about the critical upcoming match. The outcome of the duel will determine whether or not Ajax qualifies for the lucrative tournament for the first time since 2005.

Towards the end of the conference, Jol came back to the words De Zeeuw had spoken as the conference’s kick off. “The Champions League belongs with a club like Ajax”, said the midfielder, who, just like many of his team mates, must keep a blank sheet with regards to performing in the highest European club competition. With his former club AZ and Ajax, he has played 33 Europa League duels. Added up with the double header against PAOK and the away match at Dinamo Kiev, De Zeeuw will play his 37th European match on Wednesday night. But he would like to add a ‘real’ CL duel to his resume. With Ajax. “With AZ, reaching the Champions League felt like a reward for the national title. But it’s different with Ajax. The entire club is oriented towards the Champions League.”

Qualifying for the Champions League group phase would also be a milestone for Jol. “The Europa League was a great experience, with Ajax and other clubs. And I’ve won many matches as a coach. I hope to achieve the same in the Champions League. That would be a fantastic experience. Definitely for our young group of players. These matches are extremely instructive. And, aside from the sportive ambitions, participation in the Champions League would be financially important for Ajax.”

For the first time in history, Ajax faces a Ukrainian opponent. André Ooijer has some experience against Ajax’s opponent. The36 year old defender, who made his debut with Ajax 1 on Saturday night, played against Dinamo Kiev twice in 2000, with PSV. In fact, he scored the winning goal during the away match. As for whether Ooijer’s experience will be put to use on Wednesday, Jol wouldn’t specify. Jol will only be missing the suspended Vurnon Anita on defence. “Fortunately, we have time to bring Ooijer up to the right fitness level. Moreover, we have other players who are available. But, if it’s needed, it’s needed.”

Regarding Ajax’s position against the Ukraine’s number three ream, both Jol and De Zeeuw were clear. Jol: “1-1 in Kiev is a good result. Except for the first fifteen minutes, we played a good game. We got four more good opportunities, and we should have scored on at least one of them. Then we would have been in a fantastic position for the return.” De Zeeuw: “We struggled for the whole match to make a goal, and it’s a shame that eventually, we gave a goal away so easily. We came close to 0-2. If we had, we’d be preparing to play a very different match tomorrow.”

Jol didn’t say much about the premise that Dinamo Kiev performs better on the road that at home. “It seems that way. We also barely lost any away matches last season. And don’t forget: we have 50.000 supporters tomorrow night in the Amsterdam ArenA, and they’ll only have a couple hundred. That gives us a lot of support.”