By Jules Marshall at the Amsterdam ArenA
An individual moment of brilliance from Pavel Nedved gave Juventus FC the perfect start to their UEFA Champions League campaign as his goal proved enough to secure them three points against an impressive AFC Ajax side.
The European Footballer of the Year scored just before half-time in a match which Ajax dominated for large spells in the second half, but without breaking through as Juventus held on to claim all three Group C points.
Juve started the game with new striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the lineup, as coach Fabio Capello opted to leave David Trezeguet on the bench and give the Swedish international a chance to face the club he left on transfer deadline day.
But it was Wesley Sonck, the Belgian who Ajax fans hope will replace Ibrahimovic in their goalscoring affections, who was the most dangerous player on the pitch for most of the first half. He showed the kind of quality that has brought him four goals in his first five league games, hitting the bar with a scorching shot in the second minute.
After that moment of near drama, the game settled quickly into a rather tentative affair. Gianluca Zambrotta had a few decent runs down the left, as did Maxwell on the left for Ajax, but no chances resulted. Sonck nearly broke through on a couple of occasions, and brought about the first real save of the match for either goalkeeper on the half-hour mark.
The young Ajax defence kept things simple when they had the ball, but were not called on very often in the first period. Juve had a few minutes of pressure midway through the half but were kept at bay comfortably. For Ajax, Sneijder put Sonck through on 38 minutes only for the striker to be deemed offside.
Four minutes later it was Juventus who were celebrating. After receiving the ball from Alessandro Del Piero in the box, and finding his way blocked, Mauro Camoranesi flicked it to Nedved who stabbed the ball into the top left-hand corner.
Ajax up tempo
Ajax started the second period with more aggression and it nearly paid off in the 53rd minute when a goalmouth scramble somehow stayed out of the Juventus net. Sneijder, Nicolai Mitea and Van der Vaart started to play well off each other repeatedly, working several near chances in the first 15 minutes, without stretching Buffon.
Despite this, Juventus were looking harassed, until Sneijder's over-enthusiasm got the better of him and he was booked for a tackle from behind on Nedved, who had remained the most threatening Juve player throughout the game. Seconds later, though, the goalscorer left the field, limping after a challenge from Anthony Obodai. Ruben Olivera was the replacement.
Van der Vaart then became much more involved than he had been in the first, hitting a free-kick on 75 minutes which Buffon saved well. It was as close as Ajax could come, though - their last hope coming when Sonck had a penalty claim dismissed on 90 minutes. And at the other end, Maarten Stecklenburg had to get down to an Olivera free-kick in the final seconds.
Despite defeat, Ajax's performance suggests they could threaten when they visit FC Bayern München on 28 September. Juventus, meanwhile, welcome Israeli side Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC, who lost 1-0 to Bayern tonight.