Milan, Ajax battle it out for spot in next round
AC Milan and Ajax will play for a spot in the knockout stage of
the Champions League on Wednesday.
Milan needs only a point at San Siro, while Ajax has to win the
Group H match.
Barcelona can assure itself of first place in the group with a
draw against Celtic.
Here are five things to know ahead of Wednesday’s matches:
After a difficult few months for Mario Balotelli, the AC Milan
forward is now showing signs he is back to his best.
Balotelli scored twice in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Livorno in
Serie A to take his tally to four goals in his past three matches
for Milan and snapping a run of eight matches for club and country
in which he had failed to find the back of the net.
The 23-year-old Balotelli, who has already been suspended twice
this season, has scored six goals in 10 league matches as well as
three in the Champions League.
Balotelli’s return to form comes at an opportune time for Milan,
which is languishing in eighth place in the league after only one
win in seven matches.
”We know exactly what type of footballer Balotelli is,” Milan
teammate Sulley Muntari said. ”We know how he can help us, we know
his strenghth and his ability on the pitch. When Mario wants to, he
knows how to be decisive in matches, he’s like Ibra (Zlatan
Ibrahimovic). Balotelli is exactly in that category, things depend
on him. When Mario decides to do well, he always does well.”
Kaka continues to impress at AC Milan after rejoining the club
at the start of the season following a difficult four years at Real
The Brazilian has found the back of the net four times this
season and has now scored 99 goals in his two spells at Milan.
”I really feel that the Milan shirt is like a second skin for
me,” Kaka said. ”I dreamed of wearing this shirt and I hope to do
so for many more years. I missed the atmosphere of Milan’s training
ground, the history of the club. I had a great but difficult time
”I hope to score my 100th goal as soon as possible and it would
be nice to make that mark against Ajax.”
Kaka played against Ajax four times in his past two seasons at
Real Madrid. He scored at the Bernabeu as Madrid beat Ajax 4-1 both
home and away last year and was also on target the previous season
when the Spanish team won 3-0 both home and away.
READY TO ATTACK
Ajax managed to hand Barcelona its first defeat of the season
two weeks ago even without its first-choice strikers.
The 2-1 victory set up Wednesday’s decider against AC Milan for
the second qualifying berth from Group H. Ajax has to win to
progress while a draw would be enough for Milan.
Ajax captain Siem de Jong is still sidelined with injury, but
Iceland striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson is fit again after recovering
from an ankle injury and so is former Milan striker Bojan Krkic,
who has scored in his last two matches coming off the bench.
Danny Hoesen, who scored Ajax’s second in the win over
already-qualified Barcelona, is also in Frank de Boer’s squad for
Wednesday’s match at San Siro.
But the man most in form in front of goal for Ajax is
20-year-old midfielder Davy Klaassen, who scored a hat trick on
Saturday in the 4-0 win over NAC Breda.
Klaassen is in the form of his life after coming back from a
groin injury that sidelined him for nearly an entire season.
Klaassen is so highly rated in Amsterdam that even Ajax great Johan
Cruyff took an interest in his recovery, getting him specialist
treatment in Barcelona.
Now Klaassen believes the must-win match against AC Milan will
be an advantage for the attacking-minded Ajax.
”We have to win and maybe that’s good. That suits us,”
Barcelona’s ability to clinch its group with games to spare is
proving beneficial with the Spanish champions dealing with injuries
and grumpy players.
Lionel Messi is out for a few more weeks while Andres Iniesta,
Xavi Hernandez and Dani Alves continue to recover from knocks that
kept them out of Friday’s 4-1 Copa del Rey win at third-tier club
That victory ended a two-game losing run, but the mood has not
Young defenders Marc Montoya and Marc Bartra, plus winger
Cristian Tello, have spoken of needing more playing time.
Midfielder Alex Song has been rarely used, and the club is even
having trouble hanging on to youth prospects, such as Paraguay
striker Tonny Sanabria.
Former midfielder Thiago Alcantara recently said moving to
Bayern Munich was ”the best decision of my life.”
Celtic’s trip to Barcelona is a chance for fans of the Scottish
champions to repair their battered reputation.
Violence against Ajax fans in Amsterdam last month led to five
Celtic fans being convicted. And bad behavior marred Celtic’s
league match against Motherwell on Friday.
Celtic has suspended 128 fans from their games as a result of
the disorder. Smoke bombs and flares were thrown, while seats were
”You don’t want to have mayhem, you can’t have this disruption
inside sports grounds so we have to get together to support the
club in the best way,” Celtic assistant manager Johan Mjallby said
Tuesday. ”It is a distraction I don’t like to see because I like
to work with the players.”