Football: Ajax advance on semi-final place

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reports from Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund 0 Ajax Amsterdam 2

Ajax last night showed that reports of their decline had been exaggerated. With Terry Venables, one of their devotees, watching, they emerged from the impassioned Westfalenstadion with a place in the European Cup semi- finals all but assured.

The holders went ahead after eight minutes through Edgar Davids, the night's outstanding player. An Englishman, Dermot Gallagher, sealed their win when he sent off the Dortmund captain, Matthias Sammer, who was driving his team back into contention. A late goal from Patrick Kluivert, set up by Davids, then made the second leg a virtual formality.

Ajax had gone into the game with reasons to be fearful. They had lost two of four league games this year, ending a 20-month unbeaten record, and were without several front-line players including Marc Overmars, Frank de Boer and Jari Litmanen.

They also have long-term concerns. The Bosman ruling threatens to deprive the club of its economic lifeline - the bulk of the team are out of contract at the end of the season and may leave for nothing. A clutch of players, and possibly, Louis van Gaal, the coach, could be en route for Milan.

Such outside temptation makes continued Champions' League success esential. Yet, with PSV Eindhoven leading at home, qualification is no longer a formality. The planned changes to the Champions' League are unlikely to help. Uefa's two most senior officials yesterday confirmed that major countries (i.e. with major television companies, like England and Germany, but not the Netherlands) would have a second team in the Champions' League - but not next season.

Gerhard Aigner, Uefa's general secretary, and Lennart Johannson, the president, said extra knock-out rounds would probably be introduced to cope with the expansion. They also confirmed the idea of time-outs during matches had been dropped following opposition from coaches.

Thus there was plenty at stake, as well as the traditional Dutch-German emnity, for Gallagher to contend with. Within eight minutes he was signalling a goal. Kluivert, the destroyer of Ireland, turned his marker, Steffen Freund, and fed Davids, coming late and unmarked from midfield. He advanced to score with aplomb.

Germany's most raucous crowd dragged Dortmund back and, in finishing the half stronger, they created several half-chances, but no clear ones. With Sammer usurping Davids as the dominant influence Dortmund continued to press until, from a 65th minute Ajax breakaway, Sammer brought down Kiki Musampa. The Dortmund captain, booked for fouling the same player only three minutes earlier, received a second yellow card, and thus the dreaded red. With seven minutes left his team's fans were also leaving early as Davids, spotting Kluivert's diagonal run, set up the second. "Auf Wiedersehen," sang the jubilant Ajax supporters.

Borussia Dortmund (5-4-1): Klos; Schmidt (Herrlich, h-t), Freund, Sammer, Kohler, Julio Cesar; Ricken (Zorc, 75), Reuter, Berger, Reinhardt; Riedle.

Ajax (4-3-3): Van der Sar; Reiziger (Scholten, 85), Silooy, Blind, R de Boer; George, Davids, Kluivert; Wooter (Musampa, h-t), Kanu, Bogarde.

Referee: D Gallagher (Eng).