Ajax v Rosenborg
“We are obviously very pleased, but right now our focus is on the Champions League game at Ajax on Tuesday,” said coach Nils Arne Eggen, as he tries to translate domestic success over to the Champions League.
Obviously the gulf in class of the two competitions is vast and Rosenborg have never really made much of an impact on Europe’s elite. This year is no exception, with the club propping up the table after three games in the competition’s most open group.
Ajax however, have impressive credentials at this level, but despite their pedigree, success at this level has deserted them since they lifted the European Cup in 1995 and were runners up a year later.
Jari Litmanen, a pivotal member of the triumphant ’95 team, has returned to Amsterdam, and remains integral to Ajax’s chances of further success .
“I think Ajax are ready to return to the big time,” he declared on signing for Ajax in August.
“I am convinced that this team is good enough to emulate the team in the 1990s that won the Champions League.’
But Litmanen doesn’t think 2002 will be the year of Ajax rise to the top again.
“We still need time, that is for sure, but give this team another year or two and we will be challengers.”
All four teams in this group could realistically still qualify, adding greater spice to tonight’s fixture. Ajax are in the middle of a goalkeeping crisis, but have persuaded former custodian Fred Grim to come out of retirement atthe age of 37 as cover for Henk Timmer.
Ronald Koeman’s side are also boosted by the return from injury of Jelle Van Damme, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and perhaps most importantly much coveted Romanian Cristian Chivu.
Norwegian International Roar Strand completed half an hour on Saturday after injury, and will start for Rosenborg. Harald Brattback and Frode Johnsen are still doubtful however.
Lyon v Internazionale
The hero in that encounter was Brazilian Juninho Pernamucano, who helped himself to a fine hat-trick, and both club and player will be hoping to carry on where they left off tonight.
Lyon will have to do it without up-and-coming French international striker Sidney Govou though, who picked up a knee injury in the win over Auxerre. Lyon, sitting proudly at the top of Group D, will certainly miss Govou, who was among the scorers when the club beat Inter in the San Siro in the previous group encounter.
Having lost their opening game at Ajax, French champions destroyed Rosenborg 5-0 before going on to record that extremely impressive win at Inter, and Lyon have every right to be confident of progressing.
Coach Paul Le Guen is rapidly developing a reputation as a shrewd tactician, and the triumph over Inter only sought to confound that view.
“Everything worked as I planned. We were better physically and the team kept their shape and fought all match,” said Le Guen after the game.
“It is a really important winwhich will boost morale, for domestic football too, and we can look to the future with confidence.”
While Lyon and their coach seem to be enjoying their Champion’s League experience, Inter and boss Hector Cuper look to be feeling the pressure. Second in the group with four points, and with Ajax breathing down their necks, Cuper is deliberating changing his formation from a 3-4-1-2, to a more defensively minded 4-4-2 for the Lyon clash.
“If we want to calmly continue along our path in the Champions League, we have to win,” he insisted.
“If we don’t win, everything will depend on the results of the other matches, so we could use the 4-4-2.”
Inter’s Uruguayan playmaker Alvaro Recoba, originally ruled out of the game, has now been added to the squad after his injury was found to be not as serious as first thought. Fabio Cannavaro is out, so Daniele Adani is expected to fill in at the back.
Christian Vieri will again start on the bench despite coming on to equalise in the weekend’s lively 1-1 draw with Juventus.
For Lyon, Tony Vairelles comes in for Sidney Govou.