A slick Juventus side were deserved winners in the first leg of their European Cup semi-final last night, giving the Amsterdam club a mountain to climb in the return match in Italy.
In a re-run of last year's tense final, Juventus outclassed Ajax in the first half and defended well after the break. The victory underlined the Italians' pedigree in the competition they won last year on penalties after drawing 1-1 in normal time with Ajax, who have won the cup four times in their illustrious history.
Juventus took the lead in the 14th minute when a quick pass from Vladimir Jugovic set up Nicola Amoruso, who slid the ball past Edwin van der Sar in the Ajax goal.
The Ajax coach, Louis van Gaal, responded by pulling off Kiki Musampa and replacing him with Winston Bogarde, who will play for Milan next season. But Bogarde was nowhere to be seen in the 41st minute when the Frenchman, Didier Deschamps, slipped a neat pass to Christian Vieri, who calmly stroked the ball low past Van der Sar's left hand.
Jari Litmanen, the Finnish international, struck in the 66th minute to pull one back for Ajax, after an incisive pass by Richard Witschge sprang the Juventus offside trap.
Ajax fought back well after Litmanen's goal but the visitors' well-organised defence kept them at bay and Zinedine Zidane missed a good chance to add a third for Juventus in the 88th minute when he shot wide with only Van der Sar to beat.
Juventus, currently six points clear at the top of Italy's Serie A, were without the injured Alessandro del Piero and Michele Padovano, Moreno Torricelli and Antonio Conte. Ajax were missing their top striker, Patrick Kluivert, who underwent knee surgery yesterday and may miss the rest of the season.
Ajax: Van der Sar; Blind, F de Boer, Musampa (Bogarde, 27), Witschge (Dani, 70), Scholten (Wooter, 77), Melchiot, Litmanen, Overmars, R de Boer, Babangida.
Juventus: Peruzzi; Montero, Ferrara, Porrini, Pessotto, Deschamps, Jugovic (Lombardo, 86), Di Livio (Tacchinardi, 69), Amoruso, Vieri, Zidane.