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A round of 32 place looks like a long shot for FC Timişoara, but as they prepare to host AFC Ajax, coach Ioan Ovidiu Săbau told uefa.com the club's priority is now "to learn, to improve, to gain maturity".
A committed performance in Amsterdam on Matchday 1 earned Timişoara a 0-0 draw against Ajax, but two defeats and a draw since mean they need to take six points from their final two fixtures to have any hope of qualifying. Săbau said: "We have to admit our chances are very slim. Our target is to get at least four points from the last two last matches, beating Ajax first. It would be great if we got all six, but it still all depends on the other results."
A Feyenoord midfielder from 1990-92, Sabău was on the losing side in all three of his league games against Ajax, though his team beat the Amsterdam giants in a Dutch Cup game. "Ajax had a very strong squad, with famous players," recalled the 41-year-old. "Dennis Bergkamp had just started to play and at Feyenoord we were going through a very difficult period. Three coaches were hired and fired, so we could not compete with Ajax and PSV."
The Ajax machine has changed little since. "Ajax are the same industry, founded on children and youth," said Săbau. "They still have fantastic players, even if they sell so many of the talents they nurture. It's an ongoing process which keeps Ajax at the same high standard. Ajax are a Champions League club. They might not win the Europa League, but they have the skills to reach at least the quarter or semi-finals."
The experience of playing against the likes of Ajax and fellow Group A pacesetters RSC Anderlecht can only help Timişoara improve. "We have the chance to learn, to improve, to gain maturity and international experience. Before this term, several of our players had not played a European game. Now we will have more consistency going into next season and can aim for the knockout stages.
Knowledge is power
"I remember when I played for Dinamo Bucureşti before moving to Feyenoord, we played at least 20 international matches during the summer and the winter breaks," he added. "Before them, we were afraid when we played against top ranked teams. Afterwards, we had no worries and reached the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup semi-finals in 1990. That's what we are aiming for here at Timişoara. We have the ability to compete with the big clubs, but not consistently."
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