A shock Sunday defeat at FC Istres was far from ideal preparation for AJ Auxerre who must overturn a 1-0 deficit at home against AFC Ajax on Thursday to progress to the last 16 of the UEFA Cup.
Leading striker Benjani Mwaruwari was rested in the loss against the Ligue 1 strugglers but should return. Although defender Younes Kaboul and midfield player Yann Lachuer remain troubled with knee injuries, full-back Johan Radet is fit again following a four-month lay-off with a knee problem of his own.
Auxerre, fifth in France, know they will have to improve on their last two outings. Striker Bonaventure Kalou said: "We had a couple of chances in Istres and could have won the game, but against Ajax we will need to be far more efficient.
It will be the game of the year." Auxerre's veteran captain Philippe Violeau has given the club a boost by extending his contract for a year until June 2006.
Ajax sit third in the Netherlands after a 2-0 home win against FC Den Bosch, although they looked set to drop points themselves until two goals in the last minute saved their blushes. Substitute Daniel de Ridder and Nourdin Boukhari struck late to secure all three points for Ajax, who will be without Steven Pienaar for Thursday's game after scans revealed the midfield player damaged right knee ligaments in the first leg.
Ajax, who were forced to travel by bus from Dijon because poor conditions stopped their plane landing in Auxerre, will also be without flu victim Rafael van der Vaart, while defender Zdenek Grygera and goalkeeper Hans Vonk are also injured. There is better news for midfield player Wesley Sneijder after his speedy two-week recovery from hamstring trouble. "I can play but it's not an ideal situation to play such a match immediately," he said.
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