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Point proves enough for Ajax

Wednesday, 8 December 2004

By Jules Marshall at Amsterdam ArenA

[1] AFC Ajax claimed third position in UEFA Champions League Group C and a place in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup as an entertaining contest with FC Bayern München ended level.

Nervous wait

[2] Needing a victory to be certain of holding off Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC to clinch third place, Ronald Koeman's side fell behind to Roy Makaay's ninth-minute strike, but goals from Tomáš Galásek and Nicolae Mitea turned the match in the home side's favour. Although Michael Ballack's late equaliser earned Bayern a point, Juventus FC drew 1-1 with Maccabi to leave Ajax in third place on head-to-head record.

Three changes

[3] Ajax coach Ronald Koeman made three changes to his side, introducing Ryan Babel, Mitea and Nigel de Jong for Rafael van der Vaart, Nourdin Boukhari and Ioannis Anastasiou. Opposite number Felix Magath brought Samuel Kuffour, Tobias Rau, Martin Demichelis and Sebastian Deisler into his starting lineup.

Makaay magic

[4] Ajax began the brighter, but it was Bayern - already secure in second place - who struck first to leave the hosts facing an uphill task. It was a familiar face who gave the German side an early lead, Dutch international Makaay scoring his 23rd Champions League goal with a typically opportunist finish. Left unmarked at the far post, the Bayern forward controlled Kuffour's right-wing cross after Ajax defender Zdenek Grygera had inadvertently flicked on and drove his shot across Hans Vonk.

Kahn save

[5] Stung, the home side responded quickly and right-back Hatem Trabelsi played a one-two with Mauro Rosales before shooting from the edge of the Bayern penalty area to draw a fine one-handed save from Oliver Kahn. The Dutch champions continued to press, Babel collecting Wesley Sneijder's through-ball but shooting harmlessly over.

Important saves

[6] Kahn was then called upon twice in quick succession, saving Mauro Rosales's header and then punching Sneijder's free-kick away. The goal Ajax had been threatening finally arrived in the 38th minute, Tomáš Galásek's shot taking a big deflection and leaving Kahn wrong-footed. In Bayern's 300th match in European competition, the Czech international's goal was the 300th they had conceded.

Ajax pressure

[7] Ajax continued to press forward and Mitea burst powerfully through shortly before half-time only to drag his shot wide. Magath was without the services of key defenders Willy Sagnol, Lucio and Andreas Görlitz, and for the remainder of the half his team continued to be stretched by an effervescent Ajax.

Half-time alterations

[8] The Bayern coach withdrew Torsten Frings and Claudio Pizarro at half-time, bringing on Roberto and Paolo Guerrero, but the changes had little immediate effect as Ajax again started brightly. De Jong forced Kahn to save within five minutes, before Babel was booked for simulation when running through.

Mitea moment

[9] A flurry of bookings followed, but it was Ajax who kept their composure the better and took the lead in the 64th minute as Mitea exchanged passes with Sneijder before driving low past Kahn.

Ballack leveller

[10] The Romanian striker was replaced by Boukhari shortly afterwards as both coaches opted to make changes, and Magath's substitutions proved the more effective as Roberto's cross was met by Ballack, who planted his header beyond Vonk and into the corner of the net.

Ajax relief

[11] With Ajax knowing a point would leave them waiting on the result from Tel-Aviv, they pressed forward in search of a winner but Robert Kovac managed to steal the ball off the tip of Van der Vaart's toe as the Ajax substitute threatened. It mattered little, however, as Alessandro Del Piero's equaliser denied Maccabi victory and left Ajax in third place.

Tomáš Galásek was on the scoresheet for Ajax