Ajax ease through
By Alex Livie. Last Updated: 22/11/05 9:30pm
Ajax booked their ticket to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League with a comfortable 2-1 win over a disappointing Sparta Prague side.
Danny Blind's Ajax may be in a period of transition, but they still proved far too classy for the Czechs with the only surprise being that they only claimed victory thanks to two goals from substitute Nigel de Jong.
The Dutch outfit produced a slick display of controlled football and goals on 68 and 88 minutes from substitute de Jong sealed victory.
Ajax switched off in injury time and Martin Petras stabbed home from a corner but it proved nothing more than a consolation.
Blind can now plan for the knockout stage after Christmas, but he will need to conjure up a cutting edge if his side are to make an impact.
Ajax were the dominant force in the first meeting between the two sides and the pattern continued at the Amsterdam ArenA, as the Dutch side's impressive young midfield controlled the play.
South African star Steve Pienaar is playing for his future, with the midfielder out of contract next summer, and his impressive wing play was one of the highlights of the opening 45 minutes. The youngster was always available and delivered a number of teasing crosses from the right.
Wesley Sneijder is the heartbeat of the Ajax side and he was the main attacking threat, although he failed to find his range in the first half. Jaromir Blazek twice made low saves to deny the Dutch international, while his third effort curled just over the bar.
Sneijder may carry a goal threat, but he also has a creative side and the midfielder produced a sumptuous cross to pick out Thomas Vermaelen at the far post but he somehow headed wide from six yards.
Yannis Anastasiou and Nourdin Boukhari teamed up to slice open the Sparta defence, but the former's shot failed to do justice to the swift move.
Sparta were rarely seen as an attacking force, with two shots from Lukas Zelenka their only noteworthy efforts, but they kept the home side at arm's length in the first half.
Ajax's finishing was weak in the first half and the pattern did not change after the interval as Anastasiou lazily shot wide following an excellent cross from Boukhari.
Blind introduced de Jong at the start of the second half and he increased the home side's attacking options and came close to breaking the deadlock when firing just wide from 20 yards.
The red and white tide forced Sparta further into their shell as the second half wore on and the pressure reaped dividends 22 minutes from time as de Jong broke the deadlock.
Sneijder smashed a free kick over bar ten minutes previous and Sparta feared another shot, but the gifted midfielder outfoxed the visitors as he dinked a ball into the six-yard box and de Jong had the simple task of heading home.
Maarten Stekelenburg was a virtual spectator in the second half, but the goal prompted Sparta to emerge from their slumber and Zdenik Pospech fired out a warning when heading straight at the Ajax keeper.
Scoring goals has been a problem for Ajax this term and Zdenek Grygera and Marcus Rosenberg squandered chances in quick succession to ease the nerves in the Amsterdam ArenA.
De Jong did ease the nerves two minutes from time as he capped a fine move when slamming home from the edge of the box.
Ajax eased off the gas and Petras ensured a grandstand finish when prodding home at a corner. Sparta could have grabbed an unlikely point in injury time, but an apparent foul in the box from Urby Emanuelson went unpunished by referee Valentin Ivanov as the home side secured the three points.
Click here for Ajax v Sparta Prague player ratings
|Ajax||Team Statistics||Sparta Prague|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|5||Shots on Target||4|
|13||Shots off Target||7|
UEFA Champions League
Tue 22nd Nov - Group B
FC Thun0 - 1Arsenal
Ajax2 - 1Sp Prague
Tue 22nd Nov - Group A
Bay Munich4 - 0Rapid Vienna
Juventus1 - 0Club Brugge
Tue 22nd Nov - Group C
Barcelona3 - 1W Bremen
Panathinaikos1 - 2Udinese
Tue 22nd Nov - Group D
Man Utd0 - 0Villarreal
Lille0 - 0Benfica
UEFA Champions League Group A
UEFA Champions League Group B
UEFA Champions League Group C
|3||Zenit St. Petersburg||6||7|
UEFA Champions League Group D
UEFA Champions League Group E
UEFA Champions League Group F
|2||Paris St Germain||6||13|
UEFA Champions League Group G
UEFA Champions League Group H