Spartak Moscow familiarised itself with the pitch in the Amsterdam ArenA on Wednesday evening. During the press conference prior to practice, Ajax’ opponent in the round for the final sixteen of the UEFA Europa League gladly positioned itself as the underdog. Coach Valeri Karpin and former AZ striker Ari looked ahead to the European confrontation.
It’s perfectly clear to Spartak coach Valeri Karpin: Ajax is the favourite for Thursday. Familiar face Ari also believes this to be the case. The Brasilian who played for AZ between 2007 and 2010, thinks the home advantage in the first game can be decisive for Ajax. But of course, we will do everything in our power, to reverse those roles”, the 25 year old attacker said valiantly.
Whether or not we will actually see Ari in action on Thursday night remains to be seen. Competition is fierce with the 21 times winner of the Russian championship. Star player Wellinton is fit again, but it is doubtful whether Spartak’s coach will call on the number 11 already. ,,He can play, but he has been out of the running for three months. That requires careful consideration”, said Karpin. According to Frank de Boer Wellinton and midfielder Alex are two of the most dangerous pawns the Russians have.
The table setting caused for a mixture of languages during the contemplations of Ajax – Spartak Moscow. The Russian interpreter was present, as he had been at the Ajax press conference in the afternoon, and Ari also had his own translator next to him. This meant that questions about his past with AZ were first translated from Dutch into Russian and then from Russian into Portuguese. His answer followed the opposite route back, even though Ari appeared to still understand some Dutch words. ,,My Russian vocabulary is almost as extensive as my Dutch vocabulary now. But Dutch remains easier for me, as I spent a number of years in this country.”
Asked after his memories of the Amsterdam ArenA, the Brasilian grinned. ,,AZ lost to Ajax 6-1 here at the beginning of 2008. I scored the opening goal early on that afternoon, but Ajax consequently scored six goals, rendering my goal worthless”, said Ari. He also experienced a very special moment in the ArenA in 2009 when AZ won the Johan Cruijff Plate at the expense of sc Heerenveen.
Ari still knows most of the current Ajax players. I don’t believe all that much has changed since I left for Moscow. I know the two players who joined Ajax after my departure well too. Naturally Demy de Zeeuw and Mounir El Hamdaoui and I are old friends.” Demy de Zeeuw is the only former team mate he might run into on the pitch on Thursday evening, as El Hamdaoui will be absent due to a disciplinary suspension.
Ajax is the most experienced contender of all teams still in the race in the Europa League. On the eve of the round for the final sixteen, out of the sixteen remaining clubs, Ajax has played the most matches in the Europa League (previously the UEFA Cup). The encounter with Spartak Moscow is Ajax’ 105th match at the second European level. The 42 year old Karpin, Frank de Boer’s peer, is also very experienced. The 72 times Russian international played in two World Championships and one European Championship. The former midfielder also played for Spartak and various Spanish clubs for a number of years. Just before the start of the Russian League and the double confrontation with Ajax, he doesn’t want to look back. ,,There are plenty of memories. Now it is time to create new memories with Spartak.”