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By Jules Marshall in Amsterdam
The weight of history will be pointing firmly towards a home victory when AFC Ajax take on FC Bayern München at the Amsterdam ArenA - but not much else. The Dutch champions have a remarkable record against German sides in UEFA competitions, having played 14 games at home and won all of them, scoring 42 goals.
UEFA Cup hopes
Three of these wins have been against Bayern but they will have their work cut out to get a positive result this time. Third in Group C with just three points, Ajax will qualify for the UEFA Cup so long as they at least match Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC's result in the section's other game against Juventus FC. Yet they face a Bayern side who have gone from strength to strength since beating Ajax 4-0 in Germany on 28 September.
'Playing to win'
Coach Felix Magath's Bayern side are already sure of finishing second behind Juventus FC. Asked if they would be taking it easy, however, Magath replied: "No, the Champions League is always about prestige and money, and we need both. We will be playing to win."
Magath's words were echoed by Bayern's Dutch international striker, Roy Makaay, who said the Bundesliga leaders wanted to "win our last two games before the winter break"; Wednesday's fixture is followed by a visit from title rivals VfB Stuttgart on Saturday. For Makaay this will be his first club match in Amsterdam in eight years but it will not mean any extra sentiment. "I play for Bayern and always try to do my best; it's not important who against," he said.
"We cannot expect anything else," Ajax coach Ronald Koeman said in response to Bayern's avowals of intent. "It's logical that they are not playing for fun; Bayern are professionals, and I'm fully expecting their best side.
It's a strong Bayern. They're top of the Bundesliga and playing very well.
"They have dangerous strikers - especially Makaay - who are very hard to defend against. They are physically strong, creative in midfield, with players like [Torsten] Frings and [Michael] Ballack who can support the strikers well. They are experienced - the complete eleven."
Koeman admitted his team "were punished mercilessly in Munich. We had only one or two half-chances and were effectively beaten by half time". However, he was confident that Ajax - 2-1 winners against RKC Waalwijk last weekend - have improved since then. "We have been firmer in our recent games, but this is a game of the very highest quality," he said.
In our hands
It still hurts that we have had poor results in Munich and especially in Israel," Koeman continued, referring to the unexpected loss against Maccabi on Matchday 4. "There is pressure on us in that we still cannot count on European football after the break. But it is still in our hands, and I prefer to look at the positive. We will not be watching the other game too closely."
Ajax can expect to face Bayern's veteran goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, despite his absence from training with a damaged finger. Finally to a former Bayern goalkeeper, Sepp Maier, who has sent a message of greetings to the Dutch side against whom he was on the receiving end of a 4-0 beating in the 1972/73 season. Maier noted that he had thrown his kit and boots into a canal in disgust after the game. "If anyone finds them, could they let me know?" he added.
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