Football: Ajax prepared for revenge

European Cup
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The Independent Online
Juventus appear well placed for a repeat victory when they take on Ajax, last season's runners-up, in the semi-finals, with the first leg in Amsterdam today.

Last week the Dutch side's Finnish international, Jari Litmanen, called Juventus the best club side in the world. He said they appeared even stronger than last year, when they beat the Dutch on penalties in the final. At the weekend Juve appeared to prove him right with a 6-1 demolition of Italian champions, Milan, in Serie A.

Ajax, the 1995 European champions, are running into some form after a stuttering start to the season. Since the winter break they are unbeaten in Europe and have a 100 per cent record in the Dutch league.

Their coach, Louis van Gaal, is upbeat about his side's prospects and believes Ajax are a much fresher and sharper outfit than the one that lost in last year's final. "If there is one team in the world that can beat Juventus, then it is us," he said.

The Turin team's only problem is the fitness of the Croat Alen Boksic, who has a muscle strain. However, the return of the Frenchman, Didier Deschamps, should be adequate compensation. The Juventus coach, Marcello Lippi, was expected to confirm a front line of Nicola Amoruso and Christian Vieri.

Ajax seem set to field largely the team that came back to win a thrilling quarter-final second leg away to Atletico Madrid with Patrick Kluivert, suspended for the match in Spain, now sidelined by injury.

The Dutch international striker has a knee injury that he suffered during the 1-0 World Cup qualifying match defeat in Turkey. It has shown no signs of improvement and he faces an operation on the day of the match. Ajax expect Kluivert to be out for about a month, so he seems bound to miss the return leg in Italy. Indeed, Kluivert, who is bound for Milan at the end of the season, may not play for Ajax again.

Defender Danny Blind, midfielder Marc Overmars and striker Nordin Wooter are all carrying slight injuries but are likely to play. More doubtful is defender Mario Melchiot who saw an eye specialist on Monday.

Ajax's joint top scorer, Dani, who netted a sensational extra-time goal in Madrid, is unlikely to start the match.

Ajax: Van de Saar; Melchiot, Blind, F de Boer, Bogarde; Scholten, Witschge, Litmanen; Babangida, R de Boer, Overmars.

Juventus: Peruzzi; Porrini, Ferrara, Montero, Iuliano, Di Livio, Deschamps, Zidane, Jugovic, Vieri, Amoruso.