ON PAPER, the match-up is encouraging for Celtic fans. Ajax have failed to win any of their five matches away from home this season, and tomorrow night they travel to play in a ground where the hosts, Celtic, have only lost twice in 22 European matches – on both occasions to Barcelona.
Ajax’s difficulties on the road continued on Saturday, albeit that they were visiting the current Eredivisie leaders FC Twente, and their 1-1 draw was not considered a particularly bad result, especially as they trailed for an hour.
Luc Castaignos fired Twente ahead on 22 minutes, and it was not until the 81st minute when Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s equaliser brought Frank de Boer’s side back on level terms.
De Boer was without defender Niklas Moisander on Saturday, but he returns tomorrow night as midfielder Lerin Duarte drops out. To his relief, PSV Eindhoven failed to take advantage of the Twente-Ajax draw and go top of the league when they lost 1-0 to Groningen yesterday.
Ajax, PSV and Zwolle all trail Twente by one point in the standings, but the reigning champions will focus all their energies now on disfiguring Celtic’s incredible home record, having won 1-0 on Kerrydale Street in 2001 – albeit going out of the Champions League on aggregate.
It has been speculated that Holland manager Louis van Gaal will be in Glasgow for tomorrow night’s Group H game, and that is a prospect that could be loaded with significance for Celtic defender Virgil van Dijk as he takes on his compatriots.
“I just want to play my own game and not put any more pressure on myself. If he is coming then it will be great, of course, but I still want to play a good game just for myself and we will see what happens,” Van Dijk, an under-21 international, said yesterday. “It will be a dream to be invited for the first team of Holland.”
It was Mario Balotelli who denied Ajax a Champions League win three weeks ago when his injury-time penalty cancelled out Stefano Denswil’s 90th-minute opener, but the Italian striker looks likely to miss Milan’s home clash with Barcelona tomorrow, according to vice-president Adriano Galliani, who revealed that goalkeeper Christian Abbiati is also doubtful.
“According to our medical staff, it will be difficult for Balotelli and Abbiati to be ready in time for Tuesday,” Galliani was quoted as saying.
Milan had been hoping that former Manchester City firebrand Balotelli would return from a three-game league ban against Udinese on Saturday, but a thigh problem picked up during Italy’s final World Cup qualifier against Armenia last week meant the 23-year-old striker was sidelined for the Rossoneri’s important 1-0 win. Marco Amelia is poised to deputise for Abbiati at the San Siro.
Barcelona had to settle on Saturday for a scoreless draw away to Osasuna, having failed to score a league goal for the first time since January 2012. But if they can secure three points in Milan, they will be virtually assured of a place in the next phase of the Champions League.