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Ajax get back on track

AFC Ajax 3-0 Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC A trio of first-half goals get Ajax up and running in Group C.

AFC Ajax put themselves back in with a chance of making it through UEFA Champions League Group C with an emphatic victory against Israeli side Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC. First-half goals from Wesley Sonck, Nigel De Jong and returning captain Rafael van der Vaart set the Dutch champions up for their first points of this season's campaign.

Captain returns
The home side were boosted before kick-off with the return of the inspirational Van der Vaart. The 21-year-old playmaker returned from a hamstring injury in a side with four changes, following Saturday’s 3-1 Eredivisie defeat by SC Heerenveen, Ronald Koeman choosing a team with an average age of just 22. Maccabi, who like AFC Ajax had lost their opening games to Juventus FC and FC Bayern München, received good news when midfield player Moshe Mishaelof was passed fit after a groin strain.

Dream start
However, Mishaelof, nor any of his team-mates, could do anything as Ajax sprang out of the traps, taking the game immediately to their visitors. And, with just four minutes on the clock, they got the dream start as Sonck side-footed into an empty net after a Wesley Sneijder shot was palmed into his path by Maccabi goalkeeper Liran Strauber.

Ajax pressure
Not content to sit back after gaining the early advantage they craved, Ajax could have doubled their lead on 12 minutes when the lively Sneijder sent a chip onto the roof of the net from the edge of the box.

Rare attacks 
Maccabi attacks were rare in a first half dominated by the home side, but those that did come were long range shots which never troubled Bogdan Lobont in the Ajax goal. His only save being an easy tip over from a Tamir Cohen header after a corner 16 minutes in.

Double trouble
The second goal seemed only a matter of time in coming and it duly did on 21 minutes. A free-kick from the left looped up in the air after a posse of players attempted to head the same ball, before falling to De Jong whose header was adjudged to have crossed the line despite a desperate attempt from Avi Strool to kept it out.

Captain's joy
Before half-time it was three. Again the goal came from a left-wing cross, this time from pacy Brazilian Maxwell. Met at the far-post by Sonck, Strauber did well to save his header but could do nothing as Van der Vaart headed the rebound into an empty net.

Maccabi changes
At 3-0 down Maccabi coach Nir Klinger had to make changes to try to get his side back into the game. A double substitution saw Erez Mesika and Oren Zitoni introduced and the changes seemed to spark the visitors into life. They created a trio of early chances, the best being an Ishmael Addo break and shot which was well saved by Lobont.

Pattern resumed
The game soon fell back into the pattern of the first half with Ajax on top however, and 52 minutes in John Heitinga was unlucky to see a shot deflected just past the post. This was shortly followed by a mazy run and shot from Sonck, which Maccabi again managed to block.

Penalty miss
With the fixture seemingly petering out at 3-0, Ajax suddenly were presented with another chance to make it four two minutes from time. When substitute Daniel De Ridder’s cross struck Marcio Giovanini the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. However, Sneijder's effort struck the bar, but Ajax are now within three points of Bayern, with the return trip to Israel scheduled for 3 November.