European Football: Ajax move forward

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AJAX opened a two-point lead at the top of the Dutch League yesterday when they beat Willem II 3-1 after trailing at half-time.

It was Ajax's 14th victory in 17 matches and allowed them to pull away from the defending champions, Feyenoord, who lost their unbeaten League record when they were defeated 1-0 at Roda JC Kerkrade on Friday night.

Ajax, who have lost only once in the league all season, fell behind five minutes before the break when Hans van Arum scored for the visitors who were looking for their first victory at Ajax's De Meer stadium. But, 10 minutes into the second half, van Arum put through his own net for Ajax's equaliser. The Finnish midfielder, Jari Litmanen, put Ajax ahead in the 65th minute and Ronald de Boer made it 3-1 10 minutes later.

Barcelona dashed to a 4-0 victory over Valencia on Saturday. Hristo Stoickhov opened the scoring for the Spanish champions in the 30th minute and four minutes later Jose Bakero converted a header from Romario's pass to notch Barcelona's second. Bakero slotted home his second goal in the 74th minute. But even then Valencia's troubles were far from over with their goalkeeper, Jose Sempere, sent off after cutting down Romario following a brilliant solo run.

The defender, Paco Camarasa, took over in goal for the penalty but Ronald Koeman blasted the ball into the net.

Bayer Leverkusen ensured they would remain top of the German Bundesliga for the next two months by drawing 1-1 at home to Wattenscheid on Saturday in the last round of fixtures before the winter break. Leverkusen lead Eintracht on goal diffence with both clubs on 25 points after 20 games.