By Theo Ruizenaar
Dutch champions AFC Ajax must pit their wits against a mounting injury list as well as Italian opponents AS Roma in Group B of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday night.
Gap in quality
With the 'no vacancies' sign up on the Ajax sickbay door, coach Ronald Koeman admits the initiative might have passed to the visitors ahead of this second group stage encounter. "This is the first time I have had so many injuries in the build-up to a Champions League game," he told uefa.com. "It gives us more problems. When you compare the teams,
Roma have more quality even with us at full strength, so the gap is much greater now."
Crucially perhaps, Koeman will be without his holy trinity of defender Cristian Chivu, midfielder Tomáš Galásek and Rafael van der Vaart, the attacking catalyst. The former two are suspended after picking up yellow cards in the 1-1 draw at Valencia on Matchday 7. Van der Vaart, meanwhile, tore a thigh muscle in Saturday's 1-1 draw at De Graafschap. No less painful, winger Victor Sikora also sustained a knee injury in the same game to add to Koeman's worries.
The hope now is that goalkeeper Joey Didulica will be fit enough to take his place against a Roma side which, Koeman feels, "has so much ability". "Joey wasn't able to join our last training session but I still hope he can play," he said. Not that Koeman's counterpart on the Roma bench, Fabio Capello, is without problems of his own. Ajax at least lead the Eredivisie - by a point from PSV Eindhoven. Roma, by contrast, are in eleventh place in Serie A, twelve points off the top, after a 1-0 weekend defeat at AC Milan.
Injuries have taken their toll on the Giallorossi squad too. Damiano Tommasi and Marco Delvecchio are out with neck and thigh problems respectively, while Christian Panucci and Luigi Sartor are rated doubtful. Fellow defenders Walter Samuel, Jonathan Zebina and goalkeeper Francesco Antonioli missed training on Sunday and remain short of fitness, though all three should play.
Onus on defence
With the Roma back line so afflicted, it is little wonder they have conceded 22 goals in 13 matches in Serie A this term. Thierry Henry also found a way through to score a hat-trick in Arsenal FC's 3-1 win in the Group B opener at the Stadio Olimpico. All of which left captain Francesco Totti to demand an improvement from the defensive ranks. "
It is important we get the defence right and hopefully get a clean sheet." With Totti set to line up alongside one from Antonio Cassano, Vincenzo Montella or Gabriel Batistuta, Koeman could be forgiven for asking the same of his players.
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