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Ajax looking for joy at Juve

Published: Tuesday 23 November 2004, 11.02CET
AFC Ajax must become the first side to breach Juventus FC's defence in Europe this season to stay alive.

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Published: Tuesday 23 November 2004, 11.02CET

Ajax looking for joy at Juve

AFC Ajax must become the first side to breach Juventus FC's defence in Europe this season to stay alive.

By Ivan Carvalho in Turin

Unbeaten Group C winners Juventus FC, the only team not to have conceded a goal in this season's UEFA Champions League, will look to preserve their impressive run when they entertain AFC Ajax on Matchday 5.

Poor start
While the game unites two of Europe's most successful clubs on paper, Ajax's poor form in the group leaves the Dutch side in urgent need of victory if they are to avoid elimination, as FC Bayern München, with three more points, are favourites to win at home to Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC. Juventus, meanwhile, secured their place in the first knockout round after holding on for a fourth consecutive 1-0 triumph at Bayern last time out.

Capello keen
Brushing aside questions about the lack of incentives for his players, Juventus coach Fabio Capello insisted that his team would not let up against the visitors at the Delle Alpi stadium. "The only motivation we need to do well is that we are Juventus, and we are playing in Europe," said Capello. "We will give maximum effort and determination out on the pitch." Captain Lilian Thuram backed up his coach's remarks, claiming: "A game against Ajax in the Champions League is one to play to win, always."

Del Piero rested
Nevertheless, Capello is expected to make changes in order to rotate some of his players before Sunday's important Serie A encounter at FC Internazionale Milano. Striker Alessandro Del Piero will not play, with Uruguayan forward Marcelo Zalayeta expected to start alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic in attack. Ibrahimovic goes up against his former club for the second time, after the meeting on Matchday 1.

Koeman downbeat
For Ajax coach Ronald Koeman, his side's prospects were dealt a heavy blow after losing 2-1 to debutants Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC on Matchday 4, the Israeli team's first victory in the competition. The Amsterdam club have just three points from four matches and are risking another early exit from the tournament following last year's poor showing.

Challenging night
Koeman admitted that Ajax's chances of progress were "remote" but he has not lost hope, saying: "It is true that we do not have much to lose so perhaps we can play more freely. Of course, a good result against Juventus is always a challenge."

Montero possible
He will have paid close attention to Juventus's injury situation. Right-back Jonathan Zebina is still out with a thigh problem but Capello has Uruguayan international Paolo Montero back in form as the 33-year-old defender scored in a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Paraguay last week. Montero may get his chance in place of a rested Fabio Cannavaro, who has performed wonders alongside Thuram in central defence. The pair have helped Juventus keep nine clean sheets in 12 domestic outings. Juve did concede twice, however, in the Italian Cup at the weekend when a weakened side lost 2-0 at Atalanta BC in a second round first-leg tie.

Babel included
For Ajax, South African international midfielder Steven Pienaar is still absent with a knee injury but the attack-minded Rafael van der Vaart should feature despite a troublesome hamstring. Neither played in Sunday's 5-0 Eredivisie win at De Graafschap, when talented 17-year-old Ryan Babel was among the scorers just two minutes after coming on as a substitute. It was enough to earn the youngster a place in Tuesday's squad.

Last updated: 23/11/04 11.25CET