Jari Litmanen rolled back the years for AFC Ajax with an exquisite second-half strike to earn his side a 2-1 UEFA Champions League Group B victory against AS Roma at the Amsterdam ArenA.
Litmanen, a European Champion Clubs' Cup winner with Ajax in 1995, scored his first goal in European football for the club since his summer move from Liverpool FC in the 66th minute to double Ajax's advantage following Zlatan Ibrahimovic's opening goal and ensure that Gabriel Batistuta's late reply was little more than a consolation for a disappointing Roma.
Ajax's victory was all the more impressive given that they came into the match hampered by injury and suspension. Coach Ronald Koeman was missing the spine of his side with Cristian Chivu, Tomáš Galasek, Victor Sikora and Rafael van der Vaart all out, but their absence did little to prevent the Dutch outfit from dominating much of the encounter.
With Andy van der Meyde and Hatem Trabelsi both dangerous down the flanks, Roma were stretched defensively and it was a foray down the left involving Van der Meyde that led to the first goal after just eleven minutes. The midfield player combined well with the impressive Nigel de Jong to get in behind Christian Panucci, but the danger seemed to have passed when the ball fell to de Jong on the edge of the box.
The youngster, however, was able to get in a low shot from distance which Francesco Antonioli completely misjudged to gift Ibrahimovic his chance. The ball bounced up on to the goalkeeper's forehead and into the path of the striker who calmly side-footed his side ahead from five metres.
Ajax come close
Roma failed to register a shot on target during the opening period. Cafu rifled over from a tight angle and Totti curled a free-kick wide, but the Ajax goal was rarely threatened and it was the home side who should have added to the score before the interval. First Mido just failed to connect with De Jong's cross, then Ibrahimovic ran through the Roma defence only for Antonioli to race off his line to thwart the striker.
Roma briefly came to life after the restart with Traianos Dellas and Vincent Candela both working shooting chances. Yet Ajax were soon back in command, the tide turning with the introduction of Litmanen on 55 minutes. It took the veteran striker just over ten minutes to leave his mark and put the match out of the reach of Roma. Teed up by Ibrahimovic's cut-back from the left, Litmanen unleashed a curling strike beyond Antonioli and into the top right corner.
Roma had scored just four times in the Champions League in their seven previous games, and did not look like getting back into the match. Substitute Batistuta did pull one back late on with a header off Christian Panucci's long punt forward, but it came too late to save Roma who go into the winter break without a point from their first two games. In contrast, Ajax, with four, have plenty to look forward to.