Celtic: Ajax not an easy clash, says Murdo MacLeod

Murdo MacLeod believes Ajax should not be underestimated. Picture: SNS
Murdo MacLeod believes Ajax should not be underestimated. Picture: SNS
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MURDO MacLeod has told Celtic fans not to assume three easy points will be on offer when Ajax come to Parkhead later in the month for their crunch Champions League encounter.

The Hoops lost their opening two Group H matches, away to AC Milan and at home to Barcelona, leaving Neil Lennon’s men bottom of their section.

It is widely thought that the upcoming double-header against the Dutch side represents Celtic’s best chance of getting points on the board to rescue hopes of reaching the last-16 for the second successive season or, failing that, a place in the Europa League.

However, speaking at Celtic Park where he was helping to launch a book about the former Celtic player from the 1930s, Malcolm McDonald, the ex-Hoops midfielder and assistant manager addressed the growing assumption that Ajax will be the easiest home group fixture for the Scottish champions.

He said: “It is easy to say that because everyone knows the quality of Barcelona and AC Milan.

“People are thinking Ajax will be third best of the three but sometimes when you know the opposition (it is different), Celtic knew Barcelona and they handled them really well.

“Whereas Ajax will be fresh, they will be looking forward to playing here in a fantastic atmosphere, so they will possibly play as well as the other two teams.

“They have always been one of the top European clubs but I think people are looking at them and thinking that they are maybe the weakest one in the group.

“But I think they might surprise a lot of people when they turn up here at Celtic Park, they will still be a good football team.

“They have lost a couple of top players in the window but I still think it will be a tough game.”

MacLeod speaks with the experience of a man who has played against one of the best Ajax teams and came out on top.

The two clubs were drawn together in the first-round of the then European Cup in 1982.

The Dutch side had Johan Cruyff, Soren Lerby, Jesper Olsen and Jan Molby in their ranks, with a young Marco van Basten an unused substitute.

Ajax were favourites to go through after leaving Glasgow with a 2-2 draw but Charlie Nicholas opened the scoring for the Hoops in Amsterdam before George McCluskey’s last-gasp goal gave Celtic a 2-1 win.

“They were special games, playing against Johan Cruyff,” said MacLeod.

“Modern day players look to play against Lionel Messi, everyone is excited, but when Cruyff came here to Celtic Park it was a wonderful occasion.

“Lerby, Olsen and Molby were in the side, you were looking about at top players.

“It was 2-2 each at Celtic Park and we chased them for 90 minutes.

“Their one touch football was, I was going to say great to watch, but it wasn’t great chasing after them.

But we stuck at it and managed to claw back twice.

“We were always quite confident that we could do something in Amsterdam and Charlie scored a magnificent dink over the goalkeeper and we got a late goal from George.

“We were a young team, we were kids, but it wasn’t just a backs to the wall job to beat Ajax, we made a few chances and scored a couple of goals.

“It is different this time, it is a group. I think if Celtic lost both games they are out but if they win the first game it sets them up for the second game away from home and could be the difference between qualifying for second or third or being out of the tournament.”