By Graham Hunter in Milan
AFC Ajax coach Ronald Koeman was clear in the reason for his side's 1-0 defeat at the hands of European champions AC Milan in UEFA Champions League Group H.
"We had our chances, we didn't take them and Milan are lethal with just once chance," said the Dutchman. "They are more than solid in defence but most importantly, at this level, they take their chances." The away side's best chance of taking a draw from the match arrived five minutes into added time, but Rafael van der Vaart's close-range effort was brilliantly kept out by Milan's Brazilian goalkeeper Dida. "I hit it well and I hit it hard," said Van der Vaart. "Never in my life has anybody saved as brilliantly from one of my shots - I was certain it was in."
"Dida's save was absolutely crucial because we were truly under pressure and there was so little time left," said Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti. "I knew we would end the match this way because Ajax are so difficult to beat."
At the other end, Filippo Inzaghi's sixth goal in four games for Milan and Italy proved enough for last season's Champions League winners to open with a victory. Inzaghi and strike partner Andriy Shevchenko worked tirelessly throughout, and constantly pressured an Ajax defence weakened by the summer sale of Cristian Chivu.
"Ajax tried desperately to deny us space and it was really difficult," said Shevchenko. "However, they like to attack so they allowed us just a little bit more space than we are used to in Serie A." His strike partner was delighted to have made a scoring start to this season's competition. "The Champions League gave me so many great memories last season and it feels great to restart the way I left off," said Inzaghi. "
This is genuinely a magic moment for me."
Ajax began the match in determined fashion, and it took a shrewd tactical switch from Ancelottti to stem the wave of attacks. The Milan coach moved Paolo Maldini to left-back to counter the threat of Hatem Trabelsi, and the home side were largely in control thereafter.
"I thought we had the better of the first half and we made our chances but in the second half they played like determined champions," said Ajax's South African midfield player Steven Pienaar. "They kept the pace of the game very high and although we held them for nearly 70 minutes our coach warned us not to lose concentration or we would not get the draw we came for."
Another key factor in the Italian side's victory was the performance of new Brazilian signing Kaka, who made a highly impressive Champions League debut. The 2002 FIFA World Cup winner posed a constant threat to the Ajax defence, drifting left and right, and undermining the Dutch side's attempt to deny Milan space.
"It was a great game in which to make my debut," the 21-year-old midfield player said. "Milan's playing style suits me very much and it is easy to play with great strikers like Inzaghi and Schevchenko in front of me." However, it was the Brazilian in goal who eventually earned Milan a deserved victory.
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