Unfamiliarity with the absolute summit of international football can manifest itself in different ways and Ajax showed both ends of the scale on Wednesday. The home side played an uninhibited, daring, energetic and frivolous first half, but the imminent sensation never materialized when doubt, fear, indiecisiveness and lack of energy took over in the second half: 2-2.
Considering Ajax gave up a 2-0 lead in the second half, it was understandable that many fans left the Amsterdam ArenA unsatisfied. But in the light of the injuries to key players of Ajax, a draw against the strong Italian side was reason for joy. Ajax's bench full of adolescents was indicative for the many problems the team was faced with leading up to the Champions League match.
Injuries for dyed-in-the-wool players such as Grygera, Galásek, Sneijder and Pienaar, forced coach Danny Blind to complete his squad with players from Young Ajax. 'A junior bench' , said the coach about his reserves Jeffrey Sarpong, Michael Timisela, Emmanuel Boakye and Robbert Schilder. Their lack of experience and the absence of form or fitness of the experienced Juanfrán, made that Blind had no possibilities to change the tide in the second half, when Inter took charge and Ajax were under pressure. Ajax seemed overwhelmed with the wealth of a 2-0 lead and the home side developed stamina problems, Blind confirmed after the match.
The first Italian goal, scored quickly into the second half, ate away at Ajax's confidence. Four minutes after the break, Internazionale pulled back to within one goal with some luck, when Esteban Cambiasso combined with Dejan Stankovic. The Serbian midfielder shot and the ball went past goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg after hitting both Hatem Trabelsi and John Heitinga: 2-1.
With that, the magic from the first half disappeared. Ajax had overwhelmed the guests by winning many balls and combining with courage. Shining example in that period was Klaas Jan Huntelaar, who played his first Champions League match. The forward often got the better of defenders Córdoba and Samuel, was a reliable target and the motor for many of Ajax's attacks.
The opening goal was a just reward for Huntelaar's labour. A cross by Mauro Rosales had the perfect height and the soon-to-be Holland international headed it perfectly past golakeeper Toldo. Hardly reovered from that first sensation, the fans jumped up again four minutes later when Rosales scored from close range when he converted a cross by Urby Emanuelson.
The first cracks in the Ajax armour appeared right before halftime. Thomas Vermaelen had already saved a ball from the goal line when a corner kick by Luis Figo was headed against the crossbar by Julio Ricardo Cruz, after which Córdoba did the same in the rebound.
Blind was clear in his analysis. ,,We played a great first half, well-organised and disciplined. At halftime, we tried to keep things as they were, but the spaces got too big in the second half, also because our strengths were fading.''
Four minutes before the end, the inevitable happened. Figo found a wide-open Cambiasso, who reached an equally open Cruz right before the Ajax goal: 2-2. ,,The first half was ours, the second half Inter's. So I have to say that this is a fair result'', said Blind. ,,We wanted to have a chance when we go to Milan, and we do. It just hasn't increased. But who knows.''