Juventus v Ajax
Kick-off 19:45 Juventus vs Ajax
Juventus go into the game with Ajax in Turin this evening already assured of first place in Group C and qualification for the knock-out stage. They are the only team yet to concede a goal and only Chelsea can match their 100 per cent record.
Juve are naturally full of confidence and coach Fabio Capello insisted that there would be no let-up from his team at the Delle Alpi stadium despite their comfortable position.
He said: “The only motivation we need to do well is that we are Juventus and we are playing in Europe. We will give maximum effort and determination out on the pitch.”
Captain Lilian Thuram backed up his coach’s remarks, claiming: “A game against Ajax in the Champions League is one to play to win, always.”
Ajax, meanwhile, are in urgent need of a victory if they are to keep their slim qualification hopes alive.
Even with wins from both their remaining games they can only achieve second place. With Bayern Munich favorites to beat Maccabi Tel-Aviv tonight anything less than a victory would leave the Dutch side battling only for a UEFA Cup spot.
Their chances of progressing from the group were dealt a huge blow in their two-one defeat to Maccabi and their coach Ronald Koeman admitted that his team’s chances were “remote”. He has not given up hope though, saying: “It is true that we do not have much to lose so perhaps we can play more freely. Of course, a good result against Juventus is always a challenge.”
Capello is expected to make changes in order to rotate some of his players before Sunday’s important Serie A encounter at Inter. Striker Alessandro Del Piero will not play, with Uruguayan forward Marcelo Zalayeta expected to start alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic in attack. Ibrahimovic goes up against his former club for the second time after the meeting in the corresponding fixture on match day 1.
Right-back Jonathan Zebina is still out with a thigh problem but Capello has Uruguayan international Paolo Montero back in form as the 33-year-old defender scored in a World Cup qualifier against Paraguay last week. Montero may get his chance in place of a rested Fabio Cannavaro, who has performed wonders alongside Thuram in central defence. The pair have helped Juventus keep nine clean sheets in 12 domestic outings.
Juve come into the game on the back of a surprising 2-0 defeat to Atalanta in the Italian Cup at the weekend, although it was a considerably weakened team that they fielded.
For Ajax, South African international midfielder Steven Pienaar is still absent with a knee injury but the attack-minded Rafael van der Vaart should feature despite a troublesome hamstring. Neither played in Sunday’s 5-0 win at De Graafschap, when talented 17-year-old Ryan Babel was among the scorers just two minutes after coming on as a substitute. It was enough to earn the youngster a place in tonight’s squad.