Zalayeta emerges from shadows for Juve

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Uruguay's Marcelo Zalayeta, for so long a forgotten striker at Juventus, stepped into the limelight to hand his team a 1-0 win over Ajax in the Champions' League on Tuesday night.

Uruguay's Marcelo Zalayeta, for so long a forgotten striker at Juventus, stepped into the limelight to hand his team a 1-0 win over Ajax in the Champions' League on Tuesday night.

The 25-year-old has struggled to establish himself at the club since he arrived more than seven years ago, usually coming on as a substitute at the Delle Alpi stadium for one of the more high-profile attackers, Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet or Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

"Marcelo has matured - he's a lot more confident in his abilities," his coach, Fabio Capello, said. "He trains hard during the week and it's clear the squad and the club have faith in him."

However, his goal 15 minutes into the Group C tie gave Juventus their sixth straight win in the competition and highlighted his increasing importance. His rise is hardly an overnight success story, even given the fact that he started the season as the club's fourth-choice striker.

With Trezeguet out of action after undergoing surgery for a shoulder injury and Del Piero struggling to find his form, Zalayeta has stepped into the breach.

Juventus bought him from Penarol Montevideo at the start of the 1997-98 season, but over the next seven years he made only occasional appearances and spent periods on loan to Empoli, Perugia and the Spanish side Sevilla.

Until this season, many Juve fans knew him only for the extra-time goal against Barcelona in April 2003 that sent the Italian side through to the semi-finals of the Champions' League.

Since Capello's arrival in May, however, his fortunes have been transformed.

Zalayeta has proved decisive in Serie A, grabbing the only goal in a tight encounter with Udinese last month, as well as opening the scoring in victories against Chievo and Messina.

"My experiences in Spain and at Empoli and Perugia definitely did me good," he said after the win against Ajax. "Now I feel there's respect for me - not least because even when Del Piero and Ibrahimovic are available I can still get into the team."

He also paid tribute to his team-mates. "This year a lot of balls are coming over from the wings. I couldn't say whether that's a result of what [Mauro] Camoranesi and [Pavel] Nedved are doing. What's certain, though, is that there's no shortage of scoring chances."

Zalayeta, starting in place of the injured Del Piero, scored the winner with a precise diagonal shot following a defensive blunder by the Brazilian defender Maxwell.

The Ajax player was slow to clear the ball and lost it to Camoranesi, who quickly fed his unmarked team-mate deep in the area. "He was quick coming from behind. I did not expect it," Maxwell said about his mishap.

Maxwell had earlier come to his side's rescue by clearing the ball off the line from a Emerson header in the 60th minute. The Ajax defender has been linked with a move to Juve, and he admits to being flattered by the reports. He said: "Of course I would like to play in a team like Juventus... but it's just rumours at the present stage."

Ajax had a single scoring chance in the first half, a free-kick by Rafael van der Vaart that Gianluigi Buffon thwarted with a diving save. In the second half Ryan Babel beat two Juventus defenders, but his shot went wide.

Juventus, with one eye on their crucial Serie A match with Internazionale on Sunday, killed the game after their goal.

The Swedish striker Ibrahimovic had a less than impressive performance against his former Ajax team-mates and was replaced during the second half. "The early goal is what we needed tonight," Ibrahmovic said.

About Maxwell, the Swede said: "He's a fantastic player and I believe it's time for him to play in a bigger team than Ajax."