Bewitching Witschge

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The Independent Online

Coventry were given the walk around at Highfield Road yesterday, and it had little to do with the summer's heat or the depletion of their playing resources that had occurred over the close season. Ajax defied their own self-doubt to give City a lesson in honed individual control and team organisation.

Coventry were given the walk around at Highfield Road yesterday, and it had little to do with the summer's heat or the depletion of their playing resources that had occurred over the close season. Ajax defied their own self-doubt to give City a lesson in honed individual control and team organisation.

If Coventry in their post-Robbie Keane season are, rightly, not over-burdened with optimism, Ajax fans are still unlikely to be totally convinced by yesterday's display of superiority. They were not impressed with what any neutral would have said was a comfortable 2-0 win over Arsenal or a 0-0 draw with Lazio in last week's Amsterdam tournament. But they are harsh critics, always comparing present with a memorably illustrious past.

The new Ajax coach, Co Adriaanse, has the task of initiating a revival at a club where the youth policy was always assumed to create an insurance against failure. Last season, however, Ajax finished a poor fifth in the Dutch league, 23 points behind Eindhoven, and struggled in Europe. A chance, perhaps, for Coventry to confuse a few of their own frustrated followers by appearing to take a big-name scalp after all of the headlines about losing players? Not a chance.

Early Ajax defensive confusion was misleadingly encouraging for Coventry. The Dutch goalkeeper, Fred Grim, came out to meet Ysrael Zuniga's centre but was wrong-footed by a back pass and Cedric Roussel, upon whom Coventry will depend so much this season, eased the ball in. That, though, was an invitation to Ajax to start playing accurately to feet.

While Coventry slammed the ball out of defence with all the subtlety of a pile-driver, Ajax built piles of possession from the back and in the experienced Richard Witschge had someone who could stop, think and play under pressure.

Witschge's domination of midfield and willingness to defend constructively on the odd occasion Coventry's unimaginative football posed a minimal threat brought its inevitable reward after 65 minutes through Wamberto's consistently diverting wingmanship. Witschge moved up in support and when the ball came loose he drove in a low equalising shot. Appropriately, Wamberto also strolled through the Coventry defence to create the second goal for the substitute, Brutil Hose, whose shot was his first touch. And for all their worries about falling behind the standards of their past, Ajax remembered the importance of the first touch, not least with a 90th-minute shot by Cedric Van Der Gun that added the third without a second thought.

Even so, Adriaanse was not completely happy as "it took us 10 minutes to get used to the English team's high kicking".

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