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Martin Jol underlined the importance of UEFA Champions League football to AFC Ajax on the eve of their play-off second leg against FC Dynamo Kyiv. The four-times European champions have not featured in the group stage since 2005/06 but Jol admitted it would be "fantastic" to get back there as they look to build on their 1-1 draw in Ukraine.
The Ajax coach said: "Playing in the Europa League was a nice experience, with Ajax and my other clubs, and I won a lot of matches. Now I hope to achieve the same in the Champions League. It would be a fantastic experience, especially for our young squad. In those matches you learn a lot." There will be 50,000 fans inside the Amsterdam ArenA and according to midfielder Demy de Zeeuw, a return to the group stage is long overdue. "The whole club is geared to playing in the Champions League," he said.
Ajax – who are missing the injured Kenneth Vermeer, Rasmus Lindgren and Nicolás Lodeiro and the suspended Vurnon Anita – warmed up by beating Roda JC 3-0 with a performance that underlined the threat of new strike pair Luis Suárez and Mounir El Hamdaoui. Suárez set up two goals for El Hamdaoui, the summer signing from AZ Alkmaar who returned the favour with an assist for the Uruguayan's goal. El Hamdaoui's second, and Ajax's third, was the 50,000th in Eredivisie history and the Moroccan believes he and Suárez "will only get better".
That spells an extra worry for Dynamo coach Valeri Gazzaev, who already has the "headache" of working out how to set up his team to score. For Dynamo to avoid a first group-stage absence since 2005/06 they must either win or draw by 2-2 or more yet No10 Artem Milevskiy has not been at his best and support striker Denys Garmash is suspended following his first-leg red card. Facundo Bertoglio, a possible replacement for either, is himself injured, while neither of the Brazilians, Andre and Guilherme, offered a convincing argument in Sunday's goalless draw with FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
"Bertoglio has a muscle problem, Milevskiy is out of form, Gilherme and Andre are not in top condition," said Gazzaev, though he can at least call on the fit-again Serbian playmaker Miloš Ninković and central defender Yevhen Khacheridi. After the Dnipro stalemate, which left Dynamo five points behind league leaders FC Shakhtar Donetsk, Goran Popov declared that they "looked exhausted". Yet the defender, who should replace the injured Gérson Magrão at left-back, believes "the Champions League provides a different motivation". He will hope it provides a different outcome too given that on his last visit to Ajax with former club SC Heerenveen last season he scored but finished a 5-1 loser.
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