Who is Ajax: Profiling AEK’s Champions League opponents
For their maiden UEFA Champions League group stage outing in 12 years, AEK Athens will play Ajax in Amsterdam in what promises to be a crucial encounter. AGONAsport takes a closer look at the Greeks’ opponents.
In recent years, Ajax have gradually been reduced to the status of an average European club, but when taking a look at their history, you realise the magnitude of their hugely impressive pedigree. Since being formed in March 1990, the Amsterdam organisation have won 33 national titles, 18 Dutch Cups, one UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup and most notably four UEFA Champions Leagues with the last triumph coming in the 1994/1995 season. In 2017, Ajax took the continent by storm as they reached the UEFA Europa League final, however they contrived to drop a comprehensive 0:2 defeat to Manchester United. Ajax were one of Europe’s most successful clubs in the 20th century and enjoyed dominance in every competition which they competed in.
Having nurtured the likes of the legendary Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Clarence Seedorf and Edwin Van Der Sar, the Ajax Academy is still regarded as a leader in its field, but nowadays the club sell their best talent in the early stages of development. In the 2016/2017 Europa League showpiece match against Manchester United, Ajax fielded the youngest line-up ever witnessed in a European final (average age 22 years, 282 days old), but without any world-class seniors in their squad, they lack the experience required to become great again. Nevertheless, despite Ajax’s troubles, the Johan Cruyff Arena is sold out on a regular basis and AEK can expect a testing atmosphere in the Dutch capital.
Last season, Ajax once again failed to win the Eredivisie, finishing in a disappointing second spot as they trailed champions PSV Eindhoven by four points. On the European stage, Norwegian club Rosenborg sent them packing in the Europa League playoff stage with a surprise 4:2 aggregate victory.
Full name: Amsterdamsche Football Club Ajax
Founded: March 18, 1990
Chairman: Hennie Henrichs
Head coach: Erik ten Hag
Stadium: Johan Cruyff (Capacity 54,033)
Titles won: 33 Eredivisies, 18 Dutch Cups, 8 Johan Cruyff Shields, 4 UEFA Champions Leagues, 1 European Cup Winners’ Cup, 1 UEFA Cup, 2 UEFA Super Cups
48-year old Erik ten Hag took charge of Ajax in December 2017, replacing Marcel Keizer. Given his reasonable lack of experience in the coaching industry, the decision to appoint him raised a few eyebrows, but in 27 Ajax games at the helm he’s claimed 20 victories, five draws and suffered a mere two losses. Previously, Hag was the head coach of Go Ahead Eagles and Utrecht after he worked as an assistant at Twente and PSV.
Hag was a key figure for Twente as a player, representing the club in three separate spells between 1989 and 2002. He ended his playing days with Twente and consequently started working in the team’s coaching staff in 2006.
He may now be 35 years of age, but Dutch international forward Klaas Jan Huntelaar is just as dangerous as he’s ever been. In the six Champions League qualifying matches this summer, Huntelaar registered a large return of four goals, firing the club to the group phase. Possessing the ability to take advantage of the smallest opportunity, Huntelaar is a nightmare for opposing defences to deal with, and he’s been on the books of AC Milan, Real Madrid and Schalke 04. AEK’s defenders cannot afford to commit any errors with Huntelaar lurking.
Alongside Huntelaar, their main threat in the final third is Serbian attacker Dusan Tadic. In the Champions League qualifiers, the 29-year old managed to strike three goals in six appearances, immediately making an impression with his new employers after moving from Southampton in June. When playing in his favourite role behind the strikers, Tadic makes life extremely difficult for defences, creating openings and contributing with crucial goals. He’s competed in 58 matches with the Serbian national team and scored 14 goals along the way.
Versatile defender Daley Blind was snapped up by Manchester United from Ajax in 2014, but after four underwhelming years in the English Premier League, he returned to his hometown club. Able to play either at left-back, centre-back or in the position of a defensive midfielder, Blind offers the coaches plenty of different options and is hoping to get his career back on track in Amsterdam.
26-year old Greek goalkeeper Konstantinos Lamprou is an Ajax player, but he rarely gets a match in Amsterdam, almost always keeping the other substitutes company on the bench. Lamprou was given game time in only one 2017/2018 Eredivisie fixture.
2018/2019 SEASON SO FAR
As a result of finishing runners-up in the 2017/2018 Eredivisie season, Ajax began their Champions League campaign in the second qualifying round, seeing off the challenge of Sturm Graz (5:1), Standard Liege (5:2) and Dynamo Kyiv (3:1) to qualify for the group stages. Domestically, results have been acceptable so far with four wins and one draw in five games. Arch-rivals PSV Eindhoven currently lead the standings with a perfect record.
HISTORY AGAINST GREEK TEAMS
The first time when Ajax met Greek opposition was the 2:0 win against Panathinaikos in the 1970/1971 European Cup final. Ajax then lost 0:2 to Olympiacos in the 1983/1984 edition of the competition, but they got revenge over the Erythrolefkoi in the 1986/1987 European Cup Winners’ Cup, destroying the Piraeus club 5:1 in the Last 16. The two clubs traded wins (1:0 Olympiacos, 2:0 Ajax) in the group phase of the 1998/1999 Champions League.
In the 1994/1995 UEFA Champions League, Ajax played against AEK in the group stage, tallying six points with 2:1 and 2:0 victories. Next season, the Dutch beat Panathinaikos 3:1 in the Champions League semi-finals and twice got the better of the Greens in the 2016/2017 Europa League groups (2:1, 2:0).
Ajax broke PAOK hearts with an away goals win (4:4 aggregate) in the 2010/2011 Champions League third qualifying round and emerged victorious against the Dikefalos tou Vorra in the same stage of the 2016/2017 Champions League (3:2 aggregate).