Suspension delayed Jan Vertonghen's UEFA Champions League debut for AFC Ajax but he is raring to go against AC Milan on Tuesday and steeling himself to mark Zlatan Ibrahimović.
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Jan Vertonghen might have made his UEFA Champions League group stage debut a fortnight ago at Real Madrid CF but for suspension, but a bow against AC Milan on Tuesday is just as good for the AFC Ajax defender.
The 23-year-old Belgian international has been with Ajax since 2003 and has matured into one of the key men at the Amsterdam ArenaA. Booked twice in Ajax's qualifying campaign, the goalscorer in the 1-1 play-off first-leg draw at FC Dynamo Kyiv was forced to sit out the subsequent 2-0 Group G loss at the Santiago Bernabéu – "that was very bad to experience" – but is raring to go now.
"Personally I have really looked forward to this, my first Champions League match," Vertonghen said. "I am very happy about this, like everyone at Ajax, we want to prove ourselves to Europe. And a home match against Milan is obviously really beautiful." Vertonghen, who partners compatriot Toby Alderweireld at the heart of the defence, is well aware of the challenge they face, not least from former Ajax striker Zlatan Ibrahimović. "You need to be 100% focused all match long," Vertonghen said. "It will be tough, as he is a very multi-talented attacker, who is capable of doing almost anything. As defenders we have to be very sharp to stop this world-class striker
"After signing Ibrahimović and Robinho, Milan have gained a lot of attacking quality," Alderweireld added. "They were already world-class in defence and midfield, but now they can be compared to Real Madrid in terms of quality." Assistant coach Danny Blind singled Alderweireld out for extra advice during training on Monday, and not for the first time. "He also watches opposition matches, and then we sometimes discuss the players that I might run into on the pitch," Alderweireld said. "Of course, as a former defender, he can explain it to me very well."
Blind captained Ajax to victory against Milan in the 1995 final and Vertonghen believes a repeat 15 years on, even against the odds, is within their grasp on Tuesday. "All the lads have enough guts and have gained the experience to play our own game," he said. "In some matches we might not always succeed, but tomorrow we just want to put on our best display of football. Against teams who have more quality than us, which most people think Milan are, we have to be able to win against them at home. We have a lot of faith and really believe we can."