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Spartak need to toughen up for Ajax rematch

Published: Wednesday 16 March 2011, 20.00CET
FC Spartak Moskva hope nerves will play no further part as they try to profit from a 1-0 round of 16 win at AFC Ajax, whose coach Frank de Boer took courage from the first-leg showing.
by Mikhail Sipovich
from Moscow
Spartak need to toughen up for Ajax rematch
Spartak's nerves in Amsterdam came as a surprise to coach Valeri Karpin ©Getty Images

Tournament statistics

Spartak MoskvaAjax

Goals scored11
 
5
Attempts on target30
 
25
Attempts off target23
 
22
Corners17
 
29
Offsides15
 
10
Fouls committed88
 
37
Yellow cards15
 
6
Red cards0
 
0

Media Services

Standings

 
Published: Wednesday 16 March 2011, 20.00CET

Spartak need to toughen up for Ajax rematch

FC Spartak Moskva hope nerves will play no further part as they try to profit from a 1-0 round of 16 win at AFC Ajax, whose coach Frank de Boer took courage from the first-leg showing.

Having snatched a 1-0 lead against the run of play in Amsterdam, FC Spartak Moskva will look to hold their nerve at home to AFC Ajax, with a UEFA Europa League quarter-final place at stake in the Russian capital.

It is not as if we were playing Chelsea [FC] – Ajax have a good name in Europe but I think their players are even younger than ours.
Valeri Karpin on his team's first-leg nerves
Let's hope this time we get six chances and convert four of them.
Ajax coach Frank de Boer

Valeri Karpin's side rode their luck last week when they had three shots on goal to Ajax's ten, and no corners against 13 from the first-leg hosts. However, fortune then deserted them in their first game of the Russian Premier-Liga season, lost 4-0 at FC Rostov on Monday, although the embattled Karpin noted: "Several players in tomorrow's lineup didn't play in Rostov so the defeat shouldn't have an effect on them."

Nonetheless, Karpin had reason to doubt his team's mental strength after watching them at the Amsterdam ArenA last Thursday. "They not only looked nervous at the start, which would be nothing unusual, but for the whole first half," said the former Spartak midfielder. "It is not as if we were playing Chelsea [FC] – Ajax have a good name in Europe but I think their players are even younger than ours."

Captain and first-leg goalscorer Alex now wants to exterminate any remaining butterflies in his young team-mates' stomachs. "My Russian may not be good enough to talk at a press conference, but it's good enough to communicate with my team-mates," the Brazilian international midfielder said. "I try to explain the quality of club they play for and the responsibility that brings, but also not to be afraid to express themselves on the pitch.

"The main thing is not talking in the dressing room or even out on the pitch, but the way the senior players show their qualities on the field," he added. "That helps young players develop and learn."

Ajax, meanwhile, will be without one of their most seasoned campaigners for the round of 16 decider, with goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg sidelined for six weeks with a broken thumb. His stand-in Jeroen Verhoeven did not inspire much confidence in Sunday's 3-1 Dutch Eredivisie win at Willem II, yet coach Frank de Boer is unconcerned. "Verhoeven began a little awkwardly but that is understandable," he said. "All of a sudden he became first-choice keeper and he may be for the next four to six weeks."

De Boer remains optimistic despite the task facing his charges. "In the first half [against Spartak] we played the best football under this regime [since January]," he said. "This is how we want to play and I am convinced we will be rewarded in the end. Let's hope this time we get six chances and convert four of them."

Last updated: 17/03/11 15.22CET

http://www.uefa.com/uefaeuropaleague/season=2011/matches/round=2000130/match=2003813/prematch/preview/index.html#jitters+spartak

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