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Inter on a high for Ajax visit

Published: Sunday 26 February 2006, 1.00CET
Having fought their way back to parity after conceding two early goals away in the first leg, FC Internazionale Milano hold the advantage over AFC Ajax.
Published: Sunday 26 February 2006, 1.00CET

Inter on a high for Ajax visit

Having fought their way back to parity after conceding two early goals away in the first leg, FC Internazionale Milano hold the advantage over AFC Ajax.

FC Internazionale Milano must have feared the worst when AFC Ajax carved out a 2-0 lead inside the first 20 minutes in the first leg on 22 February - a scenario which brought to mind the 1971/72 European Champion Clubs' Cup final in Rotterdam which the Dutch team won by exactly that scoreline with Johan Cruyff scoring both goals.

Inspired recovery
• However, Ajax's early advantage in the Amsterdam ArenA proved to be only half the story as the Italian visitors staged an inspired comeback to draw level and leave themselves with the opportunity to gain a quarter-final berth in the home leg. Dejan Stanković and Julio Cruz were the players responsible for the second-half goals that left the Amsterdam team frustrated, the Argentinian pouncing with only four minutes remaining.

Villarreal waiting
• Last Friday's draw in Paris, host city for this year's final, confirmed that the winners of this tie would play UEFA Champions League debutants Villarreal CF on 29 March and 4 April in the last eight. Furthermore, the club who comes through that two-legged contest would then meet either Arsenal FC or Juventus in the semi-finals.

Formidable at home
• The portents are not good for Ajax if Inter repeat recent home form. They have won seven and drawn two of their last nine UEFA Champions League games in the San Siro which includes third qualifying round ties this season and last but disregards the home game with city rivals AC Milan in last year's quarter-final which was abandoned in the second half. More ominously for the visitors from Amsterdam, the first knockout round in the 2004/05 tournament brought Inter an away draw in the first leg (1-1 at FC Porto) before a 3-1 win in Milan with Adriano scoring a hat-trick.

Inter record
• The Nerazzurri, competing in their fifth UEFA Champions League season and winners of the European Cup in 1963/64 and 1964/65, have generally had the upper hand at home against Dutch opposition. Their record in six games shows three wins and two defeats. Their only previous home game against Ajax came in the first group stage of the 2002/03 UEFA Champions League when Hernán Crespo's late goal brought them a 1-0 win.

Single defeat
• Inter suffered just a single defeat as they finished on top of Group H with a six-point lead on Rangers FC. FC Porto got the better of them on Matchday 3 but otherwise Robert Mancini's team - attempting to reach the quarter-final stage for the third time in four seasons - showed consistent form.

Four losses
• At least Ajax can look back and say the outcome in the first game was an improvement on recent history which records that they suffered defeat in four successive games against Italian opposition, and all by the same 1-0 scoreline. Their last visit to Milan in the 2003/04 competition started the pattern as AC Milan got the better of them by a single goal.

No wins in seven
• Ajax have not won in Italy in seven visits, the 1-1 draw away to AS Roma in the second group stage of the 2002/03 UEFA Champions League separating two sequences of three successive defeats. They have also lost on each of their four trips to Milan but did win 2-0 in an away match played in Trieste against AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League group fixture in November 1994.

Lost lead
• A first-ever victory in Milan will give the Amsterdam club a place among the last eight in the UEFA Champions League for the fifth time but the first in three attempts. To achieve that they will need to show stiffer resistance than was the case in the home game three weeks previously when they lost the initial advantage given them by Klaas Jan Huntelaar, who was making his debut in Europe's premier club competition following a €9m switch from SC Heerenveen, and Mauro Rosales.

• However, Ajax, who have played seven UEFA finals against Italian opposition, can take heart from their results on the road in the group stage of the current campaign, in which they remained unbeaten, defeating FC Thun and gaining draws away to AC Sparta Praha and Arsenal FC. It gave them second place in Group B with a seven-point advantage over Thun.

Knockout format
• Clubs play two matches against each other on a home and away basis, with the team scoring the greater aggregate of goals qualifying for the next round. In the event of both teams scoring the same number of goals, the team which scores more goals away qualifies. If this proves inconclusive, extra time of two periods of 15 minutes is played after the second match. If during extra time both teams score the same number of goals, the away goals count double (ie. the visiting team advances). If no goals are scored during extra time, the winner is decided by penalty kicks.

Last updated: 12/03/06 15.43CET

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