NK Dinamo Zagreb have left the Amsterdam ArenA as winners twice before and coach Krunoslav Jurčić is determined to keep that fine record going at AFC Ajax on Thursday, saying with a smile: "Yes, for sure we will beat them for a third time."
The 39-year-old coach and his assistant Tomislav Rukavina both featured in the Dinamo side that won 1-0 at Ajax in the 1998/99 UEFA Champions League group stage. Branko Ivanković then oversaw Dinamo's defeat of the Amsterdam side in the first round of the UEFA Cup in 2007/08, the Croatian team prevailing 3-2 win after extra time with two goals from Mario Mandžukić, who is still at the club now. "Do you remember Mandžukić two years ago?" the coach smirked in the pre-match press conference. "Now he is even better."
Jurčić came on as a half-time substitute in the November 1998 win at the Amsterdam ArenA, secured by Josip Šimić's impressive 67th-minute chip, but – despite the bravado – he did not want to read too much into past results. "Many things have changed since then," he said. "When we played them, Ajax had a different style of play. They played up the wings with lots of crosses. Now they play through the middle of the pitch. I watched Dinamo's last win against Ajax from two years ago. They were very similar to us. I also spoke to Branko Ivanković who was in charge then about the game."
Reflecting on how the teams had changed since 2007, he continued: "Players from both clubs have gone to top clubs – Dinamo's Luka Modrić to Tottenham, Ajax's Hedwiges Maduro to Valencia. It was a good generation but a lot of young players are still playing so the situation is pretty similar." Dinamo's confidence is soaring following a 3-0 Matchday 2 win at FC Timişoara that lifted them above Ajax into second place in Group A, and Jurčić added: "We are going to play an excellent match and grab some points in Amsterdam. We showed against Timişoara how we need to play in the Europa League and we want to do that again.
"We are here to play our own game not to worry about them. We are here for the points and also for the UEFA coefficient for Croatia. The players are aware they will play against Ajax and are impressed by the stadium but we know our potential. The advantage for Ajax is they have a good attackers like Luis Suárez and Marko Pantelić but we know they have problems when they lose the ball. We can get that ball off them, play and make some chances."
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