By Theo Ruizenaar
AFC Ajax's hopes of reaching the second stage of the UEFA Champions League have been harmed by the loss of three key players but their coach Ronald Koeman believes their enthusiasm can still get them past Internazionale FC in Amsterdam on Tuesday.
Defender Cristian Chivu is suspended after his dismissal during the Matchday Five victory over Olympique Lyonnais, while strikers Jari Litmanen and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are injured. To add to the pressure, Ajax must win the Group D match to progress or else rely on results elsewhere. A point will be enough if Olympique Lyonnais fail to beat Rosenborg BK and even defeat will not matter if the French club manage no better than a draw in Norway. Any other course of events will see Ajax pushed into third place and the consolation of the UEFA Cup.
Rafael van der Vaart, Ajax's 19-year-old striker, is likely to play in attack as Koeman puts his faith in his youngsters. "We are missing some important players with lots of experience and Internazionale have a wealth of experience," Koeman admitted. "But why should a young, enthusiastic team not be able to beat an experienced opponent?"
Whatever the outcome - and he claimed to be "not that optimistic" - Koeman seems content with his team's performance in the competition. "I'm not that optimistic about the game because we have to win but we have already achieved something in this year's European campaign," said the former Dutch international, before adding: "[Inter's performances this season] have proved that they are vulnerable so we will have chances. They will come for a point - which is enough for them - so we will have lots of possession. Then it is important that we use the ball well."
Inter arguably face the tougher task to reach Friday's draw. Victory or a point in Amsterdam will see them through but defeat will leave them waiting for news from Norway where a Lyon win or draw would eliminate the Italian side. Héctor Cúper's side also have injury problems - defender Fabio Cannavaro is missing so Marco Materazzi and Colombian Iván Cordoba will play in central defence. Daniele Adani could also play if Cúper adopts a defensive formation while either Hernán Crespo or Alvaro Recoba will partner Christian Vieri in attack.
Inter captain Javier Zanetti believes his side would be foolish to approach the game with a defensive mentality, especially after their first league defeat of the season against Udinese Calcio at the weekend. "We are even more motivated after the defeat against Udinese," Zanetti said. "We want immediate revenge. Even if a draw is enough for us, we cannot just defend because they have players that can trouble us."
Cúper is confident that his players can get the desired result. "After a defeat like the one against Udinese, we will be even more determined against Ajax," he said. "It will be like a final for us."
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