SK Slavia Praha are hoping to banish the memories of painful qualifying defeats past as they carry a first leg cushion into their home encounter against AFC Ajax.
SK Slavia Praha hope to banish the memories of UEFA Champions League qualifying defeats past by sealing a place in the group stage for the first time. Despite a 1-0 first-leg lead and home advantage in Wednesday's return match, however, they are taking nothing for granted against an AFC Ajax side in scintillating domestic form.
Five times Slavia have entered UEFA Champions League qualifying and five times they have failed to emerge victorious. The closest they came was seven years ago: 1-0 winners at FC Shakhtar Donetsk, they were undone by a last-minute equaliser on home soil with the Ukrainian club then prevailing in extra time. David Kalivoda's 75th-minute penalty in Amsterdam leaves Slavia in a similar position now and the majority of their 17,000 sell-out crowd will want a happy ending.
Karel Jarolim's team maintained their 100 per cent start to the Czech season with Saturday's fourth successive victory, 1-0 against 1. FC Brno; Stanislav Vlček scoring 13 minutes from time. The Slavia captain also sustained a calf problem but he and Marek Suchý, who suffered a head injury, should both feature at the Evzena Rošického Stadium. Rather than injuries, it is his side's finishing ability that concerns Jarolím. He said: "We could have scored much sooner and we have to be more clinical, especially on Wednesday."
Ajax have been slightly more prolific. Having begun the Dutch Eredivisie campaign with an 8-1 demolition of promoted De Graafschap, they had expected a tougher ride from SC Heerenveen on Sunday. Yet they won 4-1 at the Amsterdam ArenA and coach Henk ten Cate says spirits are high. "Twelve goals in two games is something to hold your head up high about," he said. "We have started the season excellently and have boosted our confidence for Wednesday."
Ajax will be without Hedwiges Maduro who has concussion but midfielder Gabri is back in contention after overcoming a knee complaint and striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar is staying positive. "If you think negatively, you will not achieve anything," he said. "Slavia are tough opponents who can defend superbly with a lot of players behind the ball. Obviously the tie can still finish badly for us but in the home leg we created five excellent chances without even playing well. I think we will do the same in Prague."