Ajax hopes to qualify for the UEFA Europa League round of sixteen in Poland on Thursday evening. The Dutch champion is nursing a 1-0 lead from the first match against Legia Warsaw. One point will be enough to make it to the next round. Frank de Boer would love for Ajax to score a goal: “Because then Legia will need to score three.”
Only 24 hours until kick-off of Legia – Ajax, Frank de Boer and his 19 player selection walked on the grass of the empty Wojska Polskiego Stadium. Strangely enough, the atmosphere will be similar on Thursday evening during the return match, perhaps even quieter. The handful of spectators who took advantage of the opportunity to watch the open training will not be allowed to attend the match. Due to disruptions during the away match at Lokeren, Legia – Ajax must be played in an empty stadium.
The 32.000 stadium seats will thus remain unused. The only witnesses to Thursday’s match, in which Ajax hopes to join the last sixteen teams of the UEFA Europa League, will be reporters and officials. “You can’t prepare for those circumstances”, says Frank de Boer during his press conference preceding Ajax’s training. “It will be just as much of a burden for Legia. After all, they will miss their own fans’ support.”
Ajax travelled to Poland with a selection of 19 players. Only Viktor Fischer, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Niki Zimling are currently unfit. Richairo Zivkovic and Queensy Menig have also stayed in Amsterdam.
De Boer has a clear strategy to deliver the final knock-out to Legia. “We need to try to play our own game. Especially since we really want to score against Legia tomorrow evening. If we do, Legia will need to score three goals since we kept a clean sheet in Amsterdam last week. We need to cash in on that advantage.” Moreover, an Ajax goal could rule out a potential overtime and penalty kicks. That’s no small luxury considering the upcoming match against PSV.
The 112- time Dutch international expects that Legia – just like in the second half of last week’s game – will be on the hunt for a goal. The leader of the Polish competition must score to keep the next round within its grasp. And should the match not go Ajax’s way, then the disadvantage of an empty stadium suddenly becomes an advantage for De Boer. In that case, he can easily reach his players.
“As a coach, I’ll be able to reach them much more easily than in a regular match with a crowd. Although the point is not to direct every play with my voice. I would rather see the players motivating and, where needed, correcting each other on the fields themselves. So I’m actually hoping that I don’t need to make myself head that much. Will I yell in an empty stadium? Of course. I don’t care if the stadium is empty or full. The only thing I care about is communicating with my players. That’s all.”
Legia Warsaw - Ajax starts on Thursday at 19:00.