AFC Ajax's 2-1 defeat at Celtic FC on matchday three has led to some serious questions being asked at the Amsterdam ArenA.
Ajax are bottom of UEFA Champions League Group H and could be all but out of contention should they lose to Neil Lennon's side on home soil on Wednesday. However, should they win themselves and FC Barcelona defeat AC Milan, the situation would suddenly look a great deal rosier for the Eredivisie title holders. Maybe, just maybe, 'Overwinteren in Champions League' – translated as 'UEFA Champions League football after winter' – is not yet out of the question after all.
The Dutch press, though, made a pertinent point after that loss in Glasgow. Though it is Celtic who are nicknamed the Bhoys, it is a moniker that could equally apply to Ajax. Indeed Frank de Boer's starting lineup included two 19-year-olds (Viktor Fischer and Lucas Andersen) and, in total, ten of the starting XI were aged 24 or under. Only Christian Poulsen, 33, broke the mould.
Ajax are suffering a problem common to Dutch sides, who are often forced to cash in on their most talented players before they have had the chance to mature fully at their home clubs. Not since PSV Eindhoven in 2006/07 have an Eredivisie side been involved in the UEFA Champions League knockout phase.
De Boer described qualifying from the group stage as "possible with this squad", but that was before the departure of Christian Eriksen for Tottenham Hotspur FC. It is a void that De Boer is yet to fill. However, there can be little doubt that playing in Europe's premier club competition is teaching these young players some invaluable lessons … and fast.
For De Boer there was plenty of pride to be found from that defeat by Celtic: "If we play like that again in two weeks, then we will beat them in the Amsterdam ArenA. I really believe in that." Transmitting that faith to the players could just be the key to victory on Wednesday and – who knows? – maybe even 'Overwinteren in Champions League'.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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