By Mark Bennett in Bruges
Club Brugge KV's players have been told that their best chance of beating AFC Ajax in UEFA Champions League Group H on Tuesday rests in winning the physical battle against their Dutch opponents at the Jan Breydelstadion.
That was the message from the Belgian club's coach Trond Sollied ahead of the Matchday 6 encounter upon which Brugge's European hopes hang. Brugge are currently bottom of the section, a point behind both Ajax and RC Celta de Vigo, and only a win will guarantee them European football come the spring.
Power and endurance
Having seen his side lose 2-0 at Ajax in October, Sollied insisted his players had to try and overpower the visitors as they couldn't out-football them. "
We definitely can't match Ajax for technique," he said. "They are better than us in that respect. But we may have the edge when it comes to power and endurance."
Conditions of play
Brugge's weather-worn pitch may also be a factor in Sollied's power play. "If the pitch conditions deteriorate then it could help us because Ajax will find it hard to move the ball around," added Sollied, who is without Peruvian striker Andrés Mendoza and midfield players Alin Stoica and Serhiy Serebrennikov through injury.
One eye elsewhere
However, as well as helping themselves in their bid to stay in European competition, Brugge must also hope that group winners AC Milan can do them a favour by defeating Celta at the San Siro.
Still in contention
"When we started our campaign, we said that our main goal was to finish third so we could play in the UEFA Cup in the new year. Now we have a chance to stay in the Champions League and it would be foolish to blow such a chance lightly," said Sollied, whose team lie fifth in the Belgian First Division after a 3-1 defeat by R. Standard de Liège last Friday.
By contrast, Ajax coach Ronald Koeman argued that the physical differences between the teams could work in his side's favour. "On average my players are 20 centimetres smaller than the Brugge players and that gives us an even bigger agility advantage on a frozen pitch. I do admit that
Brugge have a physical advantage, but football is not just about that," he said.
'Come to win'
Koeman also insisted that his players - the Dutch league leaders - were better equipped to deal with the pressure surrounding the game. "I think it will be a very tough match, but my players have grown in the last two years and I know they can deal with the pressure. We have come here for a win, but that doesn't mean we will attack blindly from the first minute."
"Milan have qualified for the next stage, but there is a real battle for second place and that is what makes football great," Koeman continued. "If we had already qualified for the next round then I would have booked a holiday, but I prefer being here."
In fact, Koeman's only concern is the absence of Czech midfield player Tomáš Galásek, who was ruled out after a late fitness test on a leg injury. "This really is a setback for us, but now we have to invent another solution," said Koeman, who could turn to Nigel de Jong instead.
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