AFC Ajax coach Ronaldo Koeman admitted his team were "lucky" to secure a 1-1 draw at Valencia CF in their opening UEFA Champions League second group stage match – even though his side were ahead until the second minute of added time.
Justice was done
After a game totally dominated by the home side, substitute Zlatan Ibrahimovic put Ajax ahead in the 88th minute, but justice was done in the Spanish champions’ eyes when Miguel Angulo equalised to preserve their unbeaten record at the Mestalla stadium in this competition.
Despite that setback, Koeman was realistic about how fortunate his side was to pick up a point “The only moment when I thought that we could win was after Ibrahimovic’s goal,” he said. "Until that moment, I was pleased not to concede a goal. We have been lucky tonight."
Lucky that Valencia, who forced ten corners to Ajax’s one, did not make the most of their many chances, especially in the second minute when John Carew shot over an empty goal from close range. Valencia’s possession game denied Ajax almost any play, although without the injured Pablo Aimar, the home team maybe lacked a cutting edge.
Mido the danger
Jari Litmanen was drafted back into the Ajax side by Koeman, but other than one shot that forced Santiago Cañizares to save, the Finnish international never really seemed up with the pace of the game, only Egyptian striker Ahmed Hossam 'Mido' really worrying Valencia until the final couple of minutes.
Koeman said: "We were not able to play our usual football, because Valencia did not allow us to think about what we could do, with such a constant attack."
'How could I miss?'
And had they made that attack count with Carew’s early chance, Valencia could have made it four home wins out of four Champions League matches this season. Carew, responding to that miss, said: "
I do not know if I am going to sleep tonight having missed that goal. I shot with my ankle, not with my foot. I am really sad. How could I miss that goal?"
Carew, in fact, overcame that setback and proved a constant danger, but Ajax goalkeeper Joey Didulica, out of position for the Norwegian’s early chance, was otherwise on excellent form, saving 12 of Valencia’s 13 shots on target, and unluckly to let through that final one as the ball came through a crowd of defenders.
Goalkeeper denies Benítez
Valencia coach Rafael Benítez felt that the Australian custodian had denied his side three points. "
The Ajax goalkeeper is the only reason we have not won tonight," he said. "We have done the right things to secure a victory, but we have met an incredibly on-form Didulica."
Difficult at Arsenal
Benítez’s team now meet Arsenal FC – fresh from beating AS Roma 3-1 in the group's other game – at Highbury in two weeks, and Valencia’s Amedeo Carboni said: "I hope we can get the two points we have dropped tonight as soon as possible, but I know about Arsenal’s victory and it will be very difficult for us to beat them in London on 10 December."
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