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Toby Alderweireld insisted all was not lost for AFC Ajax as he surveyed the damage of a 1-0 defeat by an FC Spartak Moskva side he felt the Dutch hosts were "three times better than" in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League round of 16 tie.
"We played very well, especially in the first half when we put them under a lot of pressure and played some good football," said the Belgian international centre-back. "We created a few good chances but that counts for nothing: you need a goal."
Indeed, Ajax dominated from start to finish at the Amsterdam ArenA yet squandered opportunity after opportunity, all too often giving goalkeeper Andriy Dykan a sniff when he ought to have had none. Conversely Alex needed no invitation when presented with Spartak's only meaningful opening on 57 minutes.
"We gave them one chance and that from outside the area; for the rest of the match we gave nothing away," said Alderweireld. "If you create a lot of chances and still end up losing its never good.
Unfortunately it just didn't happen for us: the last pass wasn't always the best, the last piece of control. And our shooting wasn't as accurate as it should be."
A few Ajax heads were bowed as they left the stadium on Thursday, the disappointment of youth for a starting XI containing nine players 23 or under. The 22-year-old Alderweireld was not among them, explaining: "Of course we still have hope.
We played very well tonight – we were three times better than Spartak – so we have hope and confidence in ourselves to go through to the next round."
That belief has risen since Frank de Boer replaced Martin Jol as coach at the start of December. "Life is good under De Boer," said Alderweireld, part of a defence that has kept 12 clean sheets in 16 matches since the 40-year-old's arrival. "He tries to play football in the typical Ajax style and we all came from the youth system so we know how to play it. Everyone can see we're going places." Victory in Moscow next Thursday would help confirm it.
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