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:

BALOTELLI’S BACK

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’S 100

Kaka continues to impress at AC Milan after rejoining the club

at the start of the season following a difficult four years at Real

Madrid.

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

at Madrid.

”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,”

Klaassen said.

BARCELONA BLUES

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

Cartagena.

That victory ended a two-game losing run, but the mood has not

been rosy.

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.”

FAN FOCUS

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

damaged.

”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.”