That what most Ajax players were hoping for, became reality in Amsterdam. Ajax beat AS Roma 2-1 and share the lead in the group with Arsenal, who drew 0-0 against Valencia.
Before the match there were questions. How would Ajax play against the Romans without Chivu, Galasek (suspended) and Van der Vaart (injured)? Well, for starters with Witschge and Pienaar. The midfielders played a terrific match and proved that Ajax have more than eleven players who are good enough for the highest level in Europe.
And with Zlatan and Mido. The couple up front did its job, both offensively and defensively. ,,I am very pleased with their performance tonight'', coach Ronald Koeman said afterwards. Koeman was forced to make an early substitution, when defender Trabelsi, who was booked for a hand ball, had to be replaced by Yakubu after half an hour.
Ajax had already taken the lead by then. Roma goalkeeper Antonioli saw a shot by Nigel de Jong bounce off his head. Zlatan was in great position for the rebound and the Swedish striker calmly put his fifth Champions League goal in the net: 1-0.
AS Roma, not used to taking the initiative, did not know what to do next, and kept stalling for time. After halftime the Italian side at least tried to attack, but soon saw Ajax taking control of the match again. Substitute Jari Litmanen, who had come on for Mido because Koeman wanted somebody to hold on to the ball in midfield, aggrieviated the Romans' woes when he doubled Ajax's lead after 66 minutes. From a fine cross by Zlatan, the Finnish midfielder curled the ball around the goalkeeper for 2-0.
The match was decided in favour of the team from Amsterdam. A minute before the end of the match, substitute striker Batistuta got a goal back for Roma. Ajax goalkeeper Stekelenburg seemed to slip when the man from Argentina headed the ball on goal. Ajax managed to play out the match without getting in trouble.
Sunday, the confrontation with PSV awaits Ajax for the national league. Coach Ronald Koeman: ,,If you would have asked me before the game which one I would most like to win, I would have said the match against PSV. But if you know me and Ajax, you know that we want to win every time. The players gave everything tonight. The team deserves a big compliment for this one.''