An inspired comeback by FC Internazionale Milano salvaged a 2-2 draw at the Amsterdam ArenA after hosts AFC Ajax had dominated the first half of this first knockout round first-leg tie.
Dejan Stanković and Julio Cruz scored the goals during Inter's rally following a traumatic opening period. A superb header from UEFA Champions League debutant Klaas Jan Huntelaar had put Ajax into a 16th-minute lead and Mauro Rosales turned in a second four minutes later as Danny Blind's side took control.
Blind's prediction of an open contest was fulfilled in the early stages with both teams finding space in which to construct attacks. Stanković, recalled to the Inter lineup after recovering from a back injury, had the game's first worthwhile attempt which Maarten Stekelenburg did well to turn around the post. A sustained spell of Ajax pressure resulted in Huntelaar marking his UEFA Champions League debut, following a €9m switch from SC Heerenveen, with an emphatic header to open the scoring.
Rosales latched on to an attempted Iván Córdoba clearance and the Argentinian's sumptuous cross was planted into the corner of the net by Huntelaar. Rosales, linking superbly with the marauding Hatem Trabelsi on the right, was increasingly influential and deservedly doubled Ajax's advantage soon after. Urby Emanuelson created it down the left, his persistence and determination paying off as he deceived Esteban Cambiasso before whipping in a cross which Rosales turned in with the aid of a deflection off Inter's Nicolás Burdisso.
A shell-shocked Inter gave notice of their attacking threat when Cruz, preferred to Obafemi Martins as Adriano's strike partner, flashed in a shot at the other end. Ajax, however, continued to dominate. Had a Rosales volley been struck truly, rather than screwed off the outside of his boot, the four-time champions of Europe could have been three up inside half an hour. At times even Adriano had to act as an auxiliary defender, sprinting 60 metres towards his goal to counteract a surplus of Ajax numbers on one of numerous swift counterattacks.
Crossbar plays part
Ajax's 19-year-old left-back Emanuelson justified Blind's faith in the capabilities of his young charges, nullifying the threat of 33-year-old Luís Figo, who was forced to move infield to look for the ball on his return to the Inter side after a knee problem. Freed of Emanuelson's attentions momentarily, a Figo corner resulted in Inter twice striking the crossbar as the half closed. Córdoba reacted fastest after Cruz had beaten Stekelenburg in the air, but the Colombian's close-range header met the same fate as that of his Argentinian team-mate.
Nerazzurri coach Roberto Mancini made a tactical readjustment at the interval, bringing on Chilean David Pizarro for César to stiffen the central midfield, with Stanković replacing the Brazilian on the left. The move paid dividends within four minutes as the Serbian played a one-two with Cambiasso, outwitted Trabelsi and poked in a shot that also took a deflection en route to the back of the net. In a reversal of the opening 45 minutes, Inter now carried the greater menace. Cutting in from the left, a trademark curling strike from Figo troubled the Ajax goalkeeper before Adriano was substituted for Martins.
Still Inter pressed and Nigerian forward Martins was soon into the action. A sharp turn and shot through Johnny Heitinga's legs led to a superb save from the unsighted Stekelenburg. The latter could do nothing to keep out Cruz's late leveller, however, after the unmarked striker had the simplest of tasks to side-foot in after clever play from Cambiasso and Figo.
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