Tag Archives: Champions League

Champions League: Look for Ajax to dominate AEK Athens

Twenty four hours after PSV Eindhoven lock horns with Barcelona in the Nou Camp, it is the turn of four-time European Champions, AFC Ajax, who open their Group E campaign by playing host to reigning Greek champions, AEK Athens at the Johan Cruijff ArenA on Wednesday evening writes Steve Davies.

Ajax vs. AEK Athens

Wednesday, 17.55BST – Live on BT Sport ESPN

Twenty four hours after PSV lock horns with Barcelona in the Nou Camp, it is the turn of, Ajax, holders of the European title four times, who open their Group E campaign by playing host to reigning Greek champions, AEK Athens at the Johan Cruijff ArenA on Wednesday evening.

Image result for ajax aek athens

Despite picking up what was the club’s twelfth league crown last term, AEK Athens last title triumph came all the way back in 1994 with the intervening years seeing the club go to the brink of financial disaster and start all over again as an amateur outfit in the third tier in 2013 before achieving back-to-back promotions to reclaim their top-flight status.

However, having reached the semi-finals of the old UEFA Cup in 1977, the quarter-finals of the European Cup in 1969 in addition to making the same stage of the now defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in both 1997 and 1998, AEK’s European pedigree shouldn’t be ignored.

Having negotiated their way past Scottish champions, Celtic 3-2 on aggregate in the third round of qualifying, Marinos Ouzounidis’ side then edged out Hungarian outfit, Videoton in the play-off round by the same scoreline to claim a place in the group stage of the competition. In addition, AEK has begun their domestic campaign in fine form with three successive victories leaving them top of the pile with a two-point advantage over second place PAOK. Even more impressively, AEK is yet to concede a goal in the league while bagging seven goals in just three outings thus far.

Ajax’s European pedigree is of course without question. However, with the last of their four European Cup triumphs coming all the way back in 1995, the club, much like Dutch football’s UEFA coefficient, has endured a largely disappointing time on the European stage ever since.

Even the optimism surrounding Ajax’s run to the final of the UEFA Europa League in 2017, where a fearless Peter Bosz-coached side came up just short against Manchester United, failed to propel the club back to the forefront of European club football after tumbling out of qualifying for both the UEFA Champions League and then the UEFA Europa League in quick succession under Marcel Keizer last term.

Image result for ajax aek athens

However, with former FC Utrecht coach, Erik ten Hag having succeeded Keizer at the helm, Ajax once more look like a side to be feared and, having accounted for SK Sturm Graz, Standard Liege and Dynamo Kiev in relatively routine fashion to reach the group stage of the competition while opening their domestic campaign with four wins from five in which they have found the back of the net an impressive fourteen times and conceded only once to leave ten Hag’s men two points off pace-setting PSV Eindhoven at the top of the Eredivisie standings, the Ajax faithful have good reason to believe their side capable of snatching second place in a group that, Bayern Munich aside, appears to be there for the taking.

In a strange way, Ajax’s long and winding road to the group stage of the competition has actually served to help bring together a side that appeared at various points in the summer to be heading in different directions. Few expected the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Matthijs de Ligt or Andre Onana to still be at the club but their rumoured moves failed to materialise leaving Erik ten Hag with an embarrassment of riches at his disposal.

As such, Ajax’s strong start to the campaign both at home and abroad has many expecting great things from the four-time European champions and with a vociferous Johan Cruijff ArenA behind them, ten Hag’s men should have no trouble getting off to a winning start in Group E.


Ajax to win 3-0

£5 on 9.50 at BetVictor

Season Record


Profit – £34.25


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Champions League: Back PSV to threaten Barcelona

PSV and Ajax will represent the Dutch in the Champions League and it doesn’t get much tougher than an away trip to the Nou Camp for Marc van Bommel’s side. Will Burns previews early Tuesday evening’s huge tie.

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FC Barcelona vs. PSV

Tuesday, 17.55BST – Live on BT Sport 1

This will be the first clash between Barcelona and PSV for over 20 years and what a daunting task this will be for Marc van Bommel as he returns to the Nou Camp as a head coach. However, his side travels to Spain in incredible form.

The Eindhoven side has won their last seven games in all competitions scoring a staggering 27 goals and conceding five including a 7-0 win away to ADO Den Haag last time out. The firepower of Gaston Pereiro, Steven Bergwijn, Luuk de Jong and Hirving Lozano have been responsible for notching twenty of the aforementioned 27 goals, and despite the gulf in class in the standard of teams, Barca will need to beware of the PSV forward line.

Barcelona themselves are on a winning streak of five, but this past weekend that record was in jeopardy. Real Sociedad hosted the first game in their newly refurbished Anoeta Stadium and led for the majority of the game after taking a 12th-minute lead from an Aritz Elustondo volley after Barca failed to clear a free-kick.

Similarly to how I envisage PSV to attack, although they have much possession, Sociedad looked dangerous on the counter, and Barca found this difficult to manage at times and their possession lacked any kind of penetration in the first 45 minutes. Meanwhile, after a frustrating first-half, coach Ernesto Valverde switched Sergi Roberto into full-back after the break as Phillipe Coutinho replaced Nélson Semedo and the former Liverpool man was influential in turning the game around.

The entrance of the Brazilian gave Barca a faster movement in possession and former Ajacied striker Luis Suarez and Ousamma Dembele notched to clinch a close fought win. For the best bet in this one, I cannot look past a home win, however; the scorers of 27 goals in seven games, PSV, like Sociedad this past Saturday, are more than capable to grab a goal.


Barcelona win with Both Teams to Score

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Season Record


Profit – £44.25

Team news

FC Barcelona
Valverde experimented with his midfield this past weekend but look for him to select his strongest side with tunnel vision on the Champions League this season. Sergio Busquets and Coutinho were left out of the starting line-up, but they should come back in alongside Ivan Rakitic.

PSV Eindhoven
Not one to use much rotation, Van Bommel fielded a strong eleven at the weekend, but Erick Gutierrez has made a claim to start. The newly signed Mexican midfielder impressed from the bench on his debut scoring and creating another in the 7-0 victory against ADO.


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Champions League: Back PSV in the BATE goal-fest

Will Burns is on fire with two wins out of two on weekend’s Eredivisie action that has boosted our profits to £43.25. With a one goal advantage PSV can progress to the Champions’ League group stages with just a draw on Wednesday night, however Will thinks there will may be some trouble ahead.

PSV vs.  BATE Borisov

Wednesday, 20:00BST Live on BT Sport 3

PSV and Marc van Bommel are nearly in Thursday’s group draw with a hard fought 3-2 win last Tuesday in Borisov however, BATE will roll in Eindhoven knowing they have the ability to breach the PSV backline, and that’s where I’m honing in on for today’s bet.

After last week’s game, BATE may be struggling to cope with the regrets with the first leg as PSV put qualification on a plate for them. PSV were rocked to the core when Jasse Tuominen poked BATE ahead after just nine minutes but Van Bommel’s side progressively showed their superiority to claw back to 1-1 with a Gaston Pereiro penalty. On the hour mark, Mexican winger Hirving Lozano grabbed the lead for his side with a wonderful strike.

Donyell Malen PSV

But still the fight was there from BATE and some poor PSV defending gave veteran midfielder Alexander Hleb a goal off the bench in the 88th minute. However, PSV overcome this by venturing down the other end after the restart and youngster Donyell Malen, also a substitute, notched a headed winner on 89 minutes.

PSV got out of Borisov by the skin of their teeth and it won’t be easy on Wednesday at the Philips Stadion. Now the odds are massively stacked against the Belarusians but I can see them scoring a goal with PSV with the talent to notch a few themselves. PSV win with Both Teams to Score is a huge price at over 2/1 and I love the 2.80 on Over 3.5 Goals too.  Let’s go for that too in case we end up a high scoring draw with is very capable in a match of such magnitude.

This match, along with the Ajax game the night prior, is huge for the future of Dutch football. Good luck to both sides!


Over 3.5 Goals

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PSV win with Both Teams to Score

£10 on 3.20 Paddy Power

Season Record


Profit: £43.25

Team news
Van Bommel rested Pablo Rosario in the 2-1 win over PEC Zwolle but the 21-year-old should return in place of young Belgian midfielder Dante Rigo.

BATE Borisov
Alexander Hleb could make the first eleven after scoring last week from the bench and in need of goals, BATE could play with two up front, If so, Maksim Skavysh would be the name added to the teamsheet.

Key stats
– PSV have seen at least two goals conceded in five of their last six Champions League games.

– BATE have scored in all of their last 9 competitive away games.


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Champions League: Ajax’s goal struggles means unders is a safe bet

Wednesday night sees Ajax host Dynamo Kiev in the next round of their Champions League qualification. Will Burns thinks Erik ten Hag’s men may struggle to find the net at the Johan Cruijff Arena.

Daley Blind Ajax

Ajax vs. Dynamo Kiev

Wednesday, 20:00BST – Live on BT Sport 2

In another massive night for Dutch football, Ajax face Ukrainian Premier League runners-up Dynamo Kiev in the final round of Champions League qualification. Erik ten Hag’s men have already dispatched Sturm Graz and Standard Liege and a win over two legs against Kiev will go a long way to help the UEFA coefficient for Dutch football.

Last December, on the release of the new UEFA rankings, it was declared that the champions of the Eredivisie would not automatically qualify for the Champions’ League group stages. The Dutch are currently 14th in the UEFA rankings behind neighbours Belgium and the likes of Austria, Czech Republic and Switzerland who arguably host weaker leagues.

The country and Ajax desperately need group stage qualification at the least and the Amsterdammers have pulled out all the stops this summer to make this happen. Big money signings Dušan Tadić and the returning Daley Blind put out a real statement of intent by Ajax, who brought in a total of four players for a big sum of €41m.

Although an abundance of talent is at Ten Hag’s disposal this is no easy route to the group stage for his side. In Atlético-esque fashion, Aleksandr Khatskevich’s side are masters of the 1-0 win. Out of all five domestic games this season, four in the league and one Super Cup final, they have won all five games by the 1-0 score line. Yes you did read that correctly – all five domestic games this season have ended in a 1-0 win for Dynamo.

Unbelievably they could have added another to the list in the away leg of the last Champions League qualifying round had Slavia Prague not scored a 95th minute penalty and that goal is the only goal they have conceded so far all season.

If we combine that with Ajax’s struggles to find the net in their two Eredivisie game so far, this will be a very tough contest for Ten Hag’s men. I envisage a cautious game that Ajax will find real difficulty breaking the Ukrainians down. Backing Under 2.5 Goals looks a sure bet and that is my recommendation in this match.


Under 2.5 Goals

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Season Record


Profit – £29.75

Team news
David Neres should miss out after sustaining a hamstring injury in Saturday’s 1-0 over VVV-Venlo.

Dynamo Kiev
Summer signing from Dnipro-1, Vladyslav Supriaha is the only notable absentee.

Key stat
Kiev have won all five of their domestic games this season by a 1-0 scoreline.


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The Dwindling Dutch UEFA Coefficient

On 24th May 2015 AFC Ajax Amsterdam celebrated the 20 year anniversary of their last European success.  It was on that date in 1995, at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Vienna, against the mighty AC Milan, a solitary goal, scored by substitute, Patrick Kluivert, who remains the youngest goal scorer in Champions League Final history at 18 years, 10 months and 23 days, secured the fourth and final UEFA European Cup in the Amsterdam club’s decorated history. Louis van Gaal’s ‘golden generation’ of: Kluivert,  Edgar Davids, Edwin van der Sar, Frank and Ronald de Boer, Michael Reiziger, Winston Bogarde, Nwankwo Kanu, Marc Overmars, Finidi George and Finnish international, Jari Litmanen, minus the retired, Frank Rijkaard and the departed, Clarence Seedorf, would make it to the final again a year later, losing on penalties at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome to another Italian side, Juventus.

The last Dutch continental success came seven years later in 2002 in the shape of their fierce rivals, Feyenoord, who lifted the old UEFA Cup after a 3-2 victory over Borussia Dortmund in De Kuip.  A brace (including a penalty) from Pierre van Hooijdonk and a third by Danish striker, Jon Dahl Tomasson finally saw off the German side allowing the Rotterdam giants to celebrate in front of a partisan and predominantly Dutch crowd.

That was thirteen years ago.

In the years since, FC Twente’s success in the 2006 edition of the long forgotten and much lamented UEFA Intertoto Cup is all Dutch club football has had to shout about in terms of glory in European club competition and is why their current UEFA Coefficient is under threat writes Steven Davies.

UEFA Coefficients

In European football the UEFA Coefficients are statistics used for ranking and seeding teams in both club and international competitions. There are three different sets of coefficients calculated by UEFA: National Team Coefficient: used to rank and seed national teams for European competition and finals tournaments, Country Coefficient: used to evaluate the collective performance of the clubs of each member association, assigning the number of places and at what stage clubs enter the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League and finally, Club Coefficient: used to rank individual clubs for seeding in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.

In the National Team Coefficient calculated on 12th December 2013 which would decide the seeding and pot placements for the UEFA Euro 2016 qualification groups, the Netherlands found themselves sitting in third behind leaders, Spain and second placed, Germany. The coefficients were calculated by averaging: 40% of the average ranking points per game earned in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying stage, 40% of the average ranking points per game earned in the Euro 2012 qualifying stage and final tournament and 20% of the average ranking points per game earned in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying stage and final tournament.

In terms of Country Coefficient however, which takes into account each association’s performance in European competitions from 2010-11 to 2014-15, with the ranking at the end of 2014-15 determining the number of places each association receives in the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, the Netherlands were recently overtaken by Ukraine leaving them languishing in a disappointing ninth place with neighbours Belgium, whose clubs have collectively outperformed their Dutch counterparts in each of the last three seasons, breathing down their proverbial necks.

In 2014/15 the Netherlands had six European places up for grabs (two entrants to the UEFA Champions League and four to the UEFA Europa League) which will be reduced from 2015-16 with only three teams entering the UEFA Europa League from the countries ranked 7th to 9th (Although Go Ahead Eagles will make it four as they have been awarded a place via UEFA Fair Play); should the Netherlands fall down to 13th they would be stripped of automatic qualification for one team to the group stages of the UEFA Champions League while the remainder would have to fight through numerous qualifying rounds to reach the lucrative UEFA Europa League group stages. An unthinkable fall out of the top 15 would result in only one Dutch team being eligible to enter the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League while the rest would have a very short summer break indeed before having to compete in the early qualifying rounds of the UEFA Europa League.

Next season, 2014/15 Eredivisie Champions, PSV Eindhoven will be seeded in the draw for the 2015/16 edition of the UEFA Champions League by virtue of the fact that Real Madrid, the only side that could have prevented PSV’s seeding, lost out to Barcelona for the 2014/15 La Liga crown.

A change to the rules next season means the champions of the top seven leagues as ranked by UEFA will be seeded along with the holders of the competition; Barceona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Juventus, Benfica, Paris-Saint Germain and Zenit St. Petersburg are thus automatically seeded. With Barcelona and Juventus contesting this year’s UEFA Champions League Final and both already seeded, the extra seeding is awarded to the league ranked eighth in the UEFA Coefficients – the Eredivisie and its current champions, PSV. This will change the in 2016/17 however as the list for the 2015/16 competition is based on coefficient rankings from the 2013/14 season when the Netherlands was ranked eighth. But with Ukraine having now moved ahead of the Dutch, if the scenario were repeated, it would be the Ukrainian champions who would stand to benefit.

Club Coefficient makes even grimmer reading as no Dutch club appears in the top 25 clubs in terms of UEFA team ranking. As of 27th May 2015, Ajax find themselves just outside the top 25 in 26th place, PSV Eindhoven are 30th, AZ Alkmaar 44th just ahead of FC Twente who find themselves in 45th whilst Feyenoord only just crack the top 100 in 95th. Meanwhile, across the border in tenth place Belgium, Anderlecht occupy 41st, Club Brugge, who made it all the way to the quarter finals of the 2014-15 UEFA Europa League, are 51st, Racing Genk 57th and Standard Liege 80th.

An Illustrious History

Over the course of the 40 years prior to Feyenoord’s 2002 UEFA Cup triumph, Dutch clubs had been not only a mainstay in the latter stages of European club competitions but had proved ultimately successful on 16 occasions; be it in the European Cup (UEFA Champions League), UEFA Cup (UEFA Europa League), UEFA Cup Winners Cup, European Super Cup, UEFA Intertoto Cup or the Intercontinental Cup, Dutch clubs were always, at the very least, contenders.

Ajax was the first Dutch club to put its mark on European club competition when the club lifted the inaugural International (Intertoto) Football Cup in 1961-62. Their opponents were Feyenoord, with the Amsterdam club prevailing 4-2 over two legs. The competition comprised 32 clubs and was created for those clubs that would otherwise not have had a European competition to compete in.

Seven years later, Ajax appeared in their first UEFA European Cup final; their opponents were AC Milan and the venue, the Bernabeu in Madrid. Although the Dutch side would ultimately succumb to their Italian opponents 4-1, the Dutch club’s appearance began a run of five successive years where Dutch teams contested the final of Europe’s elite club competition with the initial loss to Milan being the only time a Dutch team failed to capture the trophy. The 1969 final would be the first for the likes of: Johan Cruijff, Piet Keizer, Sjaak Swart and Wim Suurbier and the coach, Rinus Michels; but not their last.

The following year it was Feyenoord, who graced the final beating Scottish giants, Celtic 2-1 at the San Siro in Milan through goals from Rinus Israel, who cancelled out Archie Gemmell’s thirtieth minute strike before Swede, Ove Kindvall pounced in extra time to secure the Rotterdam club’s only UEFA European Cup triumph in its illustrious history.

Rivals Ajax returned to the final in each of the following three seasons, taking home European club football’s biggest prize on every occasion; goals from Dick van Dijk and substitute, Arie Haan seeing off Panathinaikos got the ball rolling at Wembley Stadium in 1971. The following year a brace from Johan Cruijff secured a 2-0 victory over Internazionale at De Kuip in Rotterdam in what has often been dubbed Total Football’s greatest moment. Ajax’s third successive victory a year later meant that the club was able to keep the trophy permanently as a single goal from Johnny Rep was enough to see off the challenge of Juventus at the Red Star Stadium in Belgrade in front of nearly 90,000 spectators. The original ‘golden generation’ of Cruijff, Keizer, Swart, Suurbier, Rep, Neeskens, Muhren and Krol didn’t stop there, collecting the Intercontinental Cup in 1972 and the European Super Cup in 1974 before going their separate ways.

But the end of Ajax’s dominance did not spell the end for Dutch clubs in general; Feyenoord took home a major European honour in 1974 as they won the UEFA Cup beating Tottenham Hotspur 4-2 over two legs and the trophy very nearly remained in Dutch hands the following year with FC Twente coming up short against Borussia Monchengladbach. Three years later the UEFA Cup would be back in Dutch possession however, as PSV Eindhoven stepped out of the shadows of the Netherlands’ ‘big two’, beating Bastia 3-0 in the second leg through goals from Willy van de Kerkhof, Gerrie Deykers and captain, Willy van der Kuijlen; the first having ended goalless.

With the Netherlands, under the leadership of Rinus Michels and later Austrian, Ernst Happel, including the likes of: Cruijff (1974 only), Suurbier, Haan, Krol, Jansen, Neeskens, van Hanegem (1974 only), Rep and Keizer (1974 only), reaching the final of back to back FIFA World Cup’s, in West Germany in 1974 and again four years later in Argentina, where they lost to the hosts on both occasions, the 1970’s, it could be argued, belonged to Dutch football; at the very least, this small, football-mad nation, its players, coaches and clubs produced many of the great footballing moments of the decade.

By comparison, the first half of the 1980’s proved far leaner for Dutch clubs in European club competition; AZ Alkmaar being the only Dutch club to post an appearance in a major European final between 1978 and 1987 when they lost out thrillingly to Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town, 5-4 on aggregate over two legs in 1981.

In sharp contrast however, the second half of the decade heralded the return to prominence of Dutch football and its clubs on the continent. Under the management of club legend, Cruijff, Ajax, littered with a number of soon-to-be household names of world football: Rijkaard, van Basten, Bergkamp, Winter and Muhren, claimed the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1987 against the East German side, Lokomotiv Leipzig, through a lone strike in the 20th minute by Marco van Basten at the Olympic Stadium in Athens. The Amsterdam club returned to the final a year later only to lose out by the same score line to Belgian side, Mechelen.

That same year PSV Eindhoven cemented their place as one of the ‘big three’ in the Netherlands by lifting the UEFA European Cup as part of a treble that also included the Dutch Championship and the Dutch Cup, defeating Portuguese powerhouse, Benfica 6-5 on penalties, after the game, held in the Neckarstadion in Stuttgart, ended goalless.

The summer of 1988 would prove an unforgettable one for the Dutch as the Netherlands secured its first (and to date only) international honour, coming out on top at Euro 1988 in Germany, beating the Soviet Union in the final through goals from Ruud Gullit and a legendary strike from Marco van Basten; a side boasting the likes of: Gullit, van Basten, Rijkaard and Koeman and coached once again by the imperious, Rinus Michels.

However, any hopes the Dutch had of following up this international success at club level would soon be dispelled as the majority of the newly crowned European Champions would head abroad as a familiar pattern began to emerge, just as it had in the mid 1970’s and would again in the late 1990’s. Marco van Basten left Ajax for AC Milan in 1987, Ruud Gullit moved in the same direction from PSV, Frank Rijkaard would eventually join Gullit and Van Basten in Milan in 1988 after a year with Sporting Clube de Portugal and a loan spell at Real Zaragoza, while Ronald Koeman would be the last of the four to depart the Netherlands, moving from PSV to Barcelona in 1989.

It would be four more years until a Dutch team graced the final of one of Europe’s elite club competitions. In 1992, Ajax, under the leadership of a young coach named, Louis van Gaal, reached the final of the UEFA Cup where they faced Italian side, Torino. Van Gaal’s men took the crown on away goals by virtue of drawing the first leg 2-2 through goals by Wim Jonk and Stefan Pettersson in Turin before the return leg, held at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam ended goalless. The Ajax side included a number who, three years later would lift European club football’s greatest prize once more: Frank de Boer, Danny Blind and Edwin van der Sar, while most would head abroad and to Serie A in particular: Dennis Bergkamp (Internazionale), Wim Jonk (Internazionale) and Bryan Roy (Foggia).

These departures however, provided the opportunity for another ‘golden generation’ to rise through the Amsterdam club’s famed youth system, emerge into the first team, win three successive Dutch Championships from 1994 to 1996 and sweep the club to that glorious triumph in Vienna on 24th May 1995.

By end of the 20th Century, that ‘golden generation’ too would be cut up and shared out amongst Europe’s elite: Edgar Davids (Milan), Michael Reiziger (Milan), Frank and Ronald de Boer (Barcelona), Edwin Van der Sar (Juventus), Clarence Seedorf (Sampdoria), Jari Litmanen (Barcelona), Patrick Kluivert (Milan), Marc Overmars (Arsenal), Finidi George (Betis), Winston Bogarde (Milan) and Nwankwo Kanu (Internazionale); even ‘super-coach’ van Gaal left for pastures new in 1997, replacing Bobby Robson at Barcelona.

It goes without saying that generations of players of this calibre are few and far between and while great players have come through De Toekomst and pulled on the famous white shirt with the single red stripe since, Ajax have been unable to replicate this success at the highest level of European club competition.

Feyenoord’s 2002 UEFA Cup triumph was largely built on sand as the club found itself in dire financial straits a few years later as a result of many years of frivolous spending and paying exorbitant wages.

For PSV, despite taking the ascendancy in terms of domestic success in the first decade of the 21st Century and being crowned Landskampioen seven times between 2000 and 2008; this success failed to replicate itself on Europe’s biggest stage with the Eindhoven club’s run to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League in 2004-05, where they lost out to perennial European powerhouse, AC Milan, on away goals, the closest the Eindhoven club came to a second triumph in Europe’s premier club competition.

Dutch Influence

Perhaps a more accurate gauge of the impact of the Dutch on European club football is that of the success of its exported players and coaches:

Johan Cruijff brought domestic success as a player at Catalan giants, Barcelona the 1970’s under fellow Dutchman and ex-Ajax Coach, Rinus Michels and later, continental success as a coach in his own right, winning the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1989, as well as the UEFA European Cup in 1992, Ronald Koeman’s strike sinking Sampdoria in the final at Wembley Stadium. They would add the UEFA Super Cup later that year and be runners up in the final once more in 1994. Moreover, Cruijff was instrumental in implementing the ‘Dutch influence’ at the club and a style of play that came to be known as tiki-taka, characterised by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels and maintaining possession as well as the promotion of youth. The style would be continued and developed at the club by Louis van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard, the latter lifting the UEFA Champions League with the Catalans in 2006, overcoming Arsenal 2-1 at the Stade de France; while internationally, it would be successfully adopted by Spain at Euro 2008, the 2010 FIFA World Cup and Euro 2012.

Fellow Dutchman, Hans Croon would taste Cup Winners’ Cup glory with Anderlect in 1976 as would Ad de Mos with Mechelen in 1988. Huub Stevens, enjoyed UEFA Cup success with German side, Schalke 04 in 1997 and Dick Advocaat took Zenit St. Petersburg to glory in the same competition in 2008 where the Russians overcame Glasgow Rangers 2-0 through goals from Igor Denisov and Konstantin Zyryanov, before adding the UEFA Super Cup later that year, beating Manchester United 2-1; while Rinus Michels was named FIFA Coach of the Century in 1999.

Many great Dutch players have graced European club competition but few were more instrumental to a team’s success than Gullit, van Basten and Rijkaard. The Dutch trio were a vital part of the all-conquering AC Milan team of the late 80’s and early 90’s; the club securing the UEFA European Cup, UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup back-to-back in 1989 and 1990.

The Netherlands continues to produce a copious amount of talent for the game the world over which can be clearly illustrated by their appearance under Bert van Marwijk in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final despite their 1-0 loss to Spain and the fact that the Dutch were ranked at number 1 in the FIFA World Rankings between August and September 2011, becoming only the second national football team after the Spanish themselves to top the rankings without previously winning a World Cup. A third place finish would follow at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, under Louis van Gaal in Brazil and currently, the Netherlands are ranked sixth as of 7th May 2015.

The Problem(s)

The implementation of the Bosman Ruling in 1995 which removed restrictions on foreign EU players within national leagues and allowed players in the EU to move to another club at the end of their contract without a transfer fee being paid led to a lack of stability and continuity within Dutch clubs from one season to the next and is one of three key factors that KNVB President and former Ajax chairman, Michael van Praag highlighted when addressing the Dubai International Sports Conference in 2010, alongside agents and the millions on offer in Europe’s biggest leagues: “Holland is a country of 16 million people, while England for example is a country of 60 million. The difference in TV rights money the two leagues generate is huge and we can’t cope with the salaries our players are offered elsewhere.”

Despite American based Australian tycoon, Rupert Murdoch securing the rights to broadcast the Eredivisie for 12 years at a cost of 1 billion euros in August 2012, taking effect from the beginning of the 2013/14 season (meaning each Eredivisie club should annually receive 4 million euros); the deal comes up short compared, for example, to the FA Premier League which from 2013 has generated 2.2 billion euros per year in domestic and international television rights. In addition, the Deloitte Money Football League, compiled by accountancy firm, Deloitte, which ranks football clubs each year on the basis of revenue generated from football operations each February, contained no Dutch clubs in its top 30 for 2013/14; but did however, contain three Spanish clubs (Including top ranked Real Madrid who raked in €549.5 million in revenue), four German clubs, five Italian clubs and a whopping fourteen English clubs. Thus, with little hope of competing financially, Dutch clubs have become dependent on selling their best young players every season to make ends meet to which van Praag declared: “Dutch sides have become feeder clubs that is the only way to put it. Everything changed after the Bosman Ruling. Back when I was chairman of Ajax we lost Patrick Kluivert on a free transfer to AC Milan. But he wasn’t successful so they sold him a year later for US$10m. We had educated Patrick for 12 to 13 years and received nothing.”

Worrying trends have emerged with young Dutch players and those trained in Dutch academies being plucked from Dutch youth systems prior to even making their debut at first team level and others such as: Royston Drenthe, Christian Eriksen and more recently, Memphis Depay, being signed up by clubs from Europe’s biggest leagues after a relatively short time in the first team at Feyenoord, Ajax and PSV respectively.

Drenthe, who was snapped up from Feyenoord after playing just 29 first team games by Spanish giants, Real Madrid, had loan spells at Hercules and Everton but only managed 46 appearances and two goals for Real between 2007 and 2012. Thereafter, the Rotterdam native has crisscrossed the continent in spells with Alania Vladikavkaz, Reading, Sheffield Wednesday and now plies his trade in Turkey for Kayseri Erciyesspor who were relegated from the Turkish Super Lig in 2014-15.

Notably, those players taken out of Dutch academies fail to gain key experience at the highest level for their clubs and are often farmed out on loan indefinitely before being released into obscurity: a prime example of this is Sunderland’s, Patrick van Aanholt, who was part of the PSV youth system until the age of 17 when he joined Chelsea. From there, van Aanholt spent time on loan at no fewer than five clubs: Coventry City, Newcastle United, Leicester City, Wigan Athletic and Vitesse between 2009 and 2014. How many appearances did he actually make for Chelsea before being sold to Sunderland in the summer of 2014? Two! Having represented the Netherlands at every age group from U16 through to the full national team, surely his apprenticeship would have been better served playing consistently and establishing himself in the Eredivisie for PSV as opposed to embarking on the odyssey that his fledgling career has thus far become?

Such is the opinion of Dutch legend, Johan Cruijff, who urged young players to follow the example of Daley Blind in the wake of the 24-year-old’s £13.8m move to Manchester United from Ajax in the summer of 2014 in his column in De Telegraaf and relayed through his personal website: “Educated at Ajax, on loan to FC Groningen and improving step by step at Ajax to eventually gain a top transfer to Manchester United after the World Cup. But apparently, even a role model like Blind cannot prevent children to leave Ajax too early and move abroad.”

“Not one Dutch player comes to mind who has actually reached the top after moving abroad as a teenager. Unfortunately not every parent realises a football player has only one agent, but an agent sometimes has ten football players under his wing. If one of them fails, they move on to the other. A lot of talents have suffered from this the last couple of years.”

Cruijff, like van Praag, places the blame for the rising numbers of young players taking an early route abroad at the feet of agents: “I do not want to tar every football agent with the same brush, but some of them… They are one of the biggest problems in football.”

This has also proved a major problem for Dutch clubs competing in elite European club competition in recent years. For example; Ajax, the Netherlands’ most dominant club domestically, winning four consecutive titles between 2011 and 2014, before PSV broke their stranglehold in 2015, have failed to make progress out of the group stages of the UEFA Champions League in each of the last five seasons. Moreover, despite qualifying on each occasion for the latter stages of the UEFA Europa League by virtue of finishing third in each of their UEFA Champions League groups the Amsterdam club have only twice progressed past the second round, making the round of 16 in 2010/11 and again in 2014/15.

In that time, a multitude of notable players have worn the Ajax shirt before being sold on to Europe’s biggest leagues; what could a squad containing the likes of: Maarten Stekelenburg, Keneth Vermeer, Jasper Cillessen, Nicolai Boilesen, Gregory van der Wiel, Ricardo van Rhijn, Toby Alderweireld, Joel Veltman, Jan Vertonghen, Niklas Moisander, Urby Emanuelson, Jairo Reidewald, Daley Blind, Lucas Andersen, Lasse Schone, Davy Klaassen, Daley Sinkgraven, Christian Eriksen, Thulani Serero, Viktor Fischer, Riechedly Bazoer, Siem de Jong, Ricardo Kishna, Anwar El Ghazi, Arkadiusz Milik, Kolbein Sigþórsson and Luis Suarez, have done on European club football’s biggest stage had they been allowed to remain together and evolve as a team over the course of those five years?

Sadly, we will never know.


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The Chammmmppppiooonnnsss!

Total Dutch Football columnist Jos Boesveld discusses why he is looking forward to the Champions League group stages…

I’m one of the millions that are happy men tonight. A new adventure has begun. A competition, so fierce and exciting, that we all make time so see as many matches as we can watch. I’m talking, of course, about the UEFA Champions League.

And what a start on Tuesday! Real Madrid overpowering FC Basel with their counter attacks, Borussia Dortmund, with all their pace, destroying Arsenal and as always, some surprises. Like Ibrahim Afellay, five years ago one of the biggest talents in the Netherlands, but after his move to Spain, he only made it to a little over fifty matches in four years. Now he was important for his new club, Olympiakos against Atlético Madrid. With a goal and an assist, Afellay is back on the map.

As the last couple of years, Ajax is also participating in the Champions League. You can say that Ajax is also back on the map in Europe, but just for a while. The media write about Ajax now but after they have been defeated in this group with strong teams, the name Ajax will die a slow death. It’s a tough draw again for Ajax, starting against Paris Saint-Germain and playing against Barcelona and APOEL Nicosia as well. The French came to Amsterdam on Wednesday and a pretty funny and typical thing happened on the press conference before the match.

A French journalist travelled to Amsterdam to ask Frank de Boer a few questions and next to him sat captain Niklas Moisander. Because the question was asked in French, a translator rephrased the question in Dutch. It was something like this. “You’ve told us that you think Paris Saint-Germain can win the Champions League with the current squad. But what about Ajax? Can they do what they did about twenty years ago?”

I still don’t know if the journalist was trying to be funny, or was dead serious, but he got some good laughs after his question. De Boer answered polity, but told the Frenchman that Ajax sees the survival of the group stage as their target and it would be a victory if they make it through to the next round.

A lot has changed in football since 1995, when Ajax won their last Champions League. Before that year, Paris Saint-Germain only won five prices, containing two league titles and three victories in the French cup. Hell, Paris Saint-Germain existed for three years when Ajax won their third Champions League (in a row) in 1973.

Now Ajax is afraid of Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League. Money won over history, but football is still football. I’m looking forward to the game in the Amsterdam ArenA. Every result in favour of Ajax, being a draw or a win, is a bonus against this team. Times are changing, but there’s always the element of surprise. Surprise me Ajax, surprise me Champions League.




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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Besiktas 3-1 Feyenoord






A goal from Feyenoord substitute Elvis Manu was not enough for Feyenoord after they were knocked out of the Champions League following a poor performance in the Turkish capital this evening with two Beşiktaş goals coming from defensive errors reports Ryan O’Grady.

After the disappointing 2-1 defeat in the home leg of this tie, Fred Rutten’s side knew that they would have to win by 2 goals to progress or even just match the previous result to send the tie to extra-time.

Before Besiktas’ first goal on 28 minutes, Feyenoord actually had more possession and most of the game was played around the halfway line if not more in the Turkish side’s half. However even with this territorial advantage Feyenoord barely created anything, the only shot on target was from Mitchell te Vrede but it was correctly ruled out for offside. Both Boëtius and Schaken were very involved in the build up play for Feyenoord but neither could deliver a telling cross to create a chance for te Vrede.

The near-capacity crowd in Istanbul roared their team on throughout the game and were rewarded in the 28th minute when van Beek dawdled on the ball and was dispossessed by Pektemek, who ran into the box before squaring for Demba Ba, who was making his first professional appearance in Besiktas. His initial shot was well blocked and both players fell to the floor and in the ensuing melee Ba somehow managed to knock the ball in with his calf sending the home crowd in raptures. The goal was followed by a 10-minute period where the home side dominated the game creating chances and forcing errors. This ended when Boëtius broke clear for Feyenoord but was stopped by Gülüm, there was certainly a shout for a free kick, which had it been given would’ve almost meant a red card for the Turkish defender as he was the last man. Another man who was perhaps lucky to stay on the pitch was Feyenoord’s Miquel Nelom who was arguably the worst player on the pitch repeatedly being dispossessed and given the ball away with wayward passes. He was booked in the 33rd minute for a challenge on Demba Ba, which was a fair decision by the referee. This was followed by another challenge in the 44th minute, this time on former Fulham man Kerim Frei who knocked the ball past Nelom and was clearly blocked off.

Immediately after the interval Feyenoord had a couple oh half-chances including an over hit cross from Schaken which nearly went in. In the 56th minute Rutten changed his system, he brought off the ineffective te Vrede and Nelom for midfielder Vormer and striker Manu. This led to a switch from 4-3-3 to a hopefully more attacking 3-4-3. Then in the 69th minute Jordy Clasie, Feyenoord’s captain, had to go off after stupidly taking a shot long after the whistle had been blown for a foul and appearing to have possibly pulled his calf muscle. He was replaced by Karsdorp who didn’t have a great game when he came on nearly costing Feyenoord a goal. Then substitute Manu struck in the 73rd minute to give the travelling Dutch supporters a ray of hope. A long ball out from the defence was latched onto by Elvis Manu who superbly knocked it over the top of the defender before stretching a leg out to poke it past the goalkeeper. Suddenly it looked as if Feyenoord would get themselves back in the game. From a corner that was poorly dealt with by the goalkeeper, Vormer knocked it just wide and Immers had a shot from the edge of the box as well which was easily stopped by the goalkeeper. However this period of attack from Feyenoord was abruptly cut short after Demba Ba knocked in another goal from close range. Olcay Sahan received the ball on the edge of the box and with his first touch knocked it past Mathijsen before cutting back inside past Van Beek at the edge of the six-yard box and then squared it to Ba who had a tap-in.  This dampened the Feyenoord spirits and they never recovered. The win was finished off in the 85th minute when Kongolo tried to pass it back to the goalkeeper but it was intercepted by Ba who went past the goalkeeper and slotted home to complete his hat-trick and thoroughly endear himself to the home crowd.

Feyenoord will be hoping they can recover from this damaging defeat in time for their opening game of the Eredivisie season away to ADO Den Haag. They will also be hoping that this elimination will not encourage yet more stars from last season to depart.


BESIKTAS: Zengin, Gülüm, Ramon, Franco, Hutchinson, Kavlak, Şahan, Uysal, Frei (Köybaşi 74), Ba (Tosun 87), Pektemek (Özyakup 85).

GOALS: Ba 28, 80 & 86.

BOOKINGS: Uysal 22, Gülüm 71.

FEYENOORD: Mulder, Mathijsen, Nelom (Vormer 58), Kongolo, van Beek, Immers, Clasie (Karsdorp 69), Vilhena, Schaken, te Vrede (Manu 57), Boëtius.

GOALS: Manu 74.

BOOKINGS: Nelom 33, Boëtius 37, Schaken 67.


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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PREVIEW: Besiktas vs. Feyenoord






The Eredivisie campaign may be a days away but Feyenoord’s season is already underway as the club is bidding to reach the Champions League group stages by overcoming Turkey’s Beşiktaş in the Champions League third round second leg. The Dutch club are facing an uphill task to overcome Slaven Bilic’s men after losing 1-2 in the first leg at the Feijenoord Stadion last Wednesday.

Despite Holland’s successful World Cup campaign, Feyenoord have been the club affected by the national teams success as manager Louis Van Gaal’s defensive trio of Daryl Janmaat, Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij have all moved onwards and left the club after some incredible defensive performances to help The Netherlands finish third in the tournament. Fred Rutten has a much larger task in replacing Italian goal-getter Graziano Pellé who left for Southampton in July. In recent weeks, midfield dynamo Jordy Clasie has been linked with moves to Manchester United since Van Gaal has taken over at Old Trafford. Despite the losses of key defenders, Rutten can call upon experienced international defenders in Joris Mathijsen and former-Chelsea defender, Khalid Boulahrouz. Terence Kongolo (the older brother of Manchester City academy player Rodney) is expected to start at left-back as Rutten attempts to overcome last week’s defeat 1-2, and qualify Feyenoord for the group stages for the first time since 2008.

Beşiktaş are looking to reach the group stages of the Champions League with new signing Demba Ba, whose £7million move from Chelsea shocked many in the footballing world including those most loyal to the Turkish outfit. Bilic’s men are looking to withhold Feyenoord’s attacking threat as his side have to defend a one goal lead after Mitchell Te Vrede’s last minute penalty halved the deficit and handed Feyenoord an incentive despite having a two goal advantage.

Demba Ba isn’t the team’s only threat as Dutch-born midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup is making quite a name for himself with some majestic performances both domestically and in Europe for Beşiktaş. Ozyakup’s creative awareness and Demba Ba’s phenomenal goal scoring record will give Feyenoord boss, Fred Rutten, an extra worry in attack as his side will be weary of leaving too much space at the back.

John Guidetti is being heavily linked with a return to Feyenoord, in recent times, after a successful loan spell in 2011/2012 that seen him reach heroic status when the Swede famously scored a hat-trick against bitter rivals, Ajax.

There is no denying that Rutten’s task of overcoming last week’s defeat is going to be extremely difficult when he takes his side to Istanbul and the hostile Inonu stadium. Bilic’s Beşiktaş have become quite a force since the Croatian’s appointment to the hot-seat in 2013. Having previously created an enormous reputation whilst manager of Croatia he has seen his side’s lose only on rare occasions no side will want to face the Turkish outfit should they advance to the group-stages. The current set up in Turkey has seen his side labelled ‘Dortmund Like’ in recent weeks because of their lightening fast build-up play.

Bet Victor are offering 10/1 for a Besiktas 2-0 win and that is my prediction for this one unfortunately. My bias opinion would love to see the Rotterdammers advance to the group-stages of the Champions League but last week’s defeat and the electric pace in the Beşiktaş side, sadly I feel we will probably see the Dutch side crash out in Istanbul.

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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Feyenoord 1-2 Besiktas






A late penalty gave Feyenoord a major lifeline in the Champions League qualifying tie with Beşiktaş after failing to impress in the 2-1 defeat inside De Kuip this evening.

Feyenoord, Besiktas, Erwin Mulder, Feyenoord - Besiktas

It was a very unfamiliar side fielded by Fred Rutten, heavily depleted from this summer’s transfers. Ruben Schaken moved into the unusual right-back position with youngster Sven van Beek partnering veteran Joris Mathijsen in the centre. Dutch international Terence Kongolo began on the left of defence with Jordy Clasie and Tonny Vilhena protecting the back four, and Lex Immers pressing on. Jean-Paul Boetuis and Wesley Verhoek appeared on the wings giving support to inexperienced front-man Mitchell te Vrede.

Feyenoord, roared on by 50,000 Rotterdammers, exploded out the blocks and attacked the boys from Istanbul from the off, however, failed to create any decent chances. In fact, their first shot on goal did not arrive until three minutes before half-time, and it was a poor effort by Boëtius who dragged his shot wide of the target.

After it being all the home side for the first 13 minutes, the Turkish side got the opening goal from a corner on 13 minutes. The set-piece was whipped in and some terrible marking by Mathijsen allowed Mustafa Pektemek to rise above and head home to grab a vital away goal.

Throughout the first 45 minutes, Feyenoord struggled to break down Beşiktaş, the team who kept the most clean sheets in the Turkish top flight last season. The visitors looked in shape and well prepared by coach Slaven Bilic and pressed Feyenoord back, as De Kuip became frustrated and the game develop into a scrappy affair. With four bookings pulled out of Italian referee Luca Banti’s pocket in an uneventful first half.

After the interval, it was more of the same and inside the final twenty minutes the Turkish side wrapped up the victory. The impressive Kerim Koyunlu sprinted down the right wing unmarked and emerged into the area. He lashed a shot towards goal that goalkeeper Mulder looked to have covered but unfortunately it took a wicked deflection off substitute Khalid Boulahrouz and into the net.

The goal knocked the stuffing out of the crowd but gave Feyenoord a little life. However, they started to press more and gained some success forcing saves out of Tolga Zengin. But it was late on where the home supporters got a little relief.

The Feyenoord fans went home a tad happier after Ramon Motta conceded a penalty for a foul on tricky substitute Elvis Manu three minutes into stoppage time. Young striker Mitchell te Vrede converted the spot kick to give Beşiktaş a slender lead into the second leg next Wednesday night.


FEYENOORD: Mulder, Schaken (Boulahrouz 61), Van Beek, Mathijsen, Kongolo, Clasie, Immers, Vilhena, Verhoek (Manu 65), Te Vrede, Boëtius.

SUBS NOT USED: Hahn, Vormer, Nelom, Karsdorp, Achahbar.

GOALS: Te Verde 90+4P.

BOOKINGS: Verhoek 31, Boëtius 39.

BESIKTAS: Zengin, Kurtulus, Franco, Gülüm, Motta, Koyunlu (Cenk Tosun 89), Uysal, Özyakup (Ba 59), Hutchinson, Şahan (Ismail Koybasi 75), Pektemek.

SUBS NOT USED: Cenk Gonen, Sivok, Boral, Holosko.

GOALS: Pektemek 13, Koyunlu 71.


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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PREVIEW: Feyenoord vs. Besiktas






Already this match for Feyenoord is the one of the most important of the season, and they go in to battle depleted after a summer of transfers.

After a strong World Cup for the Dutch squad, defensive trio Daryl Janmaat, Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij managed to enhance their reputations that earned them moves at Newcastle United, FC Porto and Lazio respectively. However, the big loss to Fred Rutten’s side may be the departure of Graziano Pellè to Southampton. Last season, the big Italian notched 23 goals in 28 games and technical director Martin van Geel has failed to bring a replacement before Wednesday’s clash with Beşiktaş.

The pressure will be on the massive shoulders of young target man Mitchell te Vrede to produce goals. Standing at 6ft 3inches, his build will be a threat to the Turkish defence however, the inexperience of the big game atmosphere may get inside the head of the big forward and the occasion may be too much for him. Although the attacking threats of Jean-Paul Boetius, Lex Immers and Ruben Schaken could take off some of the burden, although the latter is doubtful with a knee problem.

In defence, losing three big names has really hampered Feyenoord’s chances in this game. At right-back, 19-year-old Rick Karsdorp, who normally lines up in midfield, is set to make his first-team debut in this huge encounter. In the centre, Rutten has veteran pairing Joris Mathijsen and Khalid Boulahrouz available for selection with Terence Kongolo also in contention, although the 20 year old may slot in at left back. If Rutten chooses not to play Kongolo, look to Miquel Nelom to sit in the left of defence. The back four will not fill Feyenoord supporters full of confidence and Slaven Bilic’s side will look to attack down Karsdorp’s side.

With finishing third last season in Turkish Süperlig, Beşiktaş should not have qualified for the Champions League and were only granted the slot in place of Fenerbahçe, who were been banned from European competition due to a match-fixing scandal last season. They travel to Holland with new striker Demba Ba in tow. Ba has a phenomenal goal scoring record at all clubs he has represented and will be a huge threat in this game so Rutten will be looking to stop the Senegal international receiving the ball.

Providing him could see Dutch-born attacking midfielder Oğuzhan Özyakup and his excellent range of passing looking to thread Ba through on goal.  Jordy Clasie and Tonny Vilhena in the middle of the park will have the job of keeping the former Arsenal man quiet. Up top with Ba could see a partnership with either Cenk Tosun, a celebrated youngster from Gaziantepspor or Mustafa Pektemek, a longtime goal scorer on either side of the Bosphorus strait.

Key to Feyenoord’s plans to defuse Beşiktaş will be dealing with the Turkish team’s flexibility. Bilic may opt to deploy wingers and have former PSV midfielder Atiba Hutchinson play with Özyakup in the centre with Olcay Şahan playing advanced in midfield.

The big question is how can Fred Rutten motivate his team after suffering such losses of quality in their team?  If he succeeds, then young players can enter this contest with some confidence and possibly get themselves a result. However, this is a huge task lining up against the leadership of Slaven Bilic. Bilic has defined Besiktas with a new tactical system, described by Sinan Schwarting of Besiktas-International.com as ‘Dortmund-like.’  With the likes of Şahan, Özyakup, Tosun, Pektemek and Ba closing down the Feyenoord defence, this may be a challenge too far for the under-strength Rotterdammers.

I would love to see a Feyenoord win and watch them progress in the second leg with the lead, but my head says they will struggle to score and I fancy the Turkish side to head back to Istanbul with a slight advantage.

At Bet Victor, Beşiktaş to come away from De Kuip with a win is being offered at massive 5/2, this is our best bet for this Champions League clash.

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A late Stefano Denswil’s goal looked to have sealed the victory for the hosts but Mario Balotelli’s nerveless penalty earned a draw for the Serie A giants.

Rookie defender Denswil looked to have secured a fine triumph when he rose magnificently to power Danish substitute Lasse Schöne’s corner beyond the previously unbeatable Christian Abbiati. However, talisman Balotelli had other ideas. The former Manchester City striker, who had earlier hit the bar, was brought down by substitute Mike van der Hoorn. The Italian kept his cool as he calmly stroked in the spot kick with customary aplomb.

The Amsterdammers had much the better of the first half against a strangely lacklustre Milan side. The boisterous Amsterdam Arena crowd almost had a goal to cheer after only five minutes, but Icelandic striker Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, released by Lerin Duarte’s clever pass, shot against the goalkeeper’s legs.

Frank de Boer’s men continued to force Milan back into their own half, and left-back Daley Blind showed some fine footwork before slipping the ball to Danish youngster Viktor Fischer, who lashed an effort from 20 metres that only just evaded Abbiati’s left-hand post.

The first hint of an attack from the Rossoneri arrived on the half-hour mark, Kévin Constant managing to get in behind the Ajax back-line on the right, though his weak low cross was gathered comfortably by Jasper Cillessen. Back came Ajax, first with a Duarte free-kick that was palmed over by Abbiati and, seconds later, through a strike from Niklas Moisander that rose just too high.

After the half-time team talks, Massimiliano Allegri’s men began the second half a different team. Cillessen showed admirable reflexes to beat away Riccardo Montolivo’s close-range flick, then Balotelli’s free-kick cannoned off the wall and onto the roof of the net. The home side rallied, Sigthórsson heading Siem de Jong’s cross straight at Abbiati, though Balotelli came closest of all just after the hour. Cutting in from the left, he curled a beautiful shot that Cillessen tipped against the underside of the bar.

With the game seemingly heading towards a goaless draw, the last few minutes offered extraordinary drama. First Denswil’s header, his first goal for the club, sent the Amsterdam ArenA into an ecstasy replaced by agony when Balotelli coolly slotted in.



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Ajax slumped to a 4-0 defeat against a strong Barca side which saw Lionel Messi clinched his Champions League goals tally to 62 goals in 79 appearances – only former Real Madrid striker Raúl has more with 71. In another amazing stat, Messi now has 24 hat-tricks for Barcelona in his career so far. So a 4-0 defeat for the Eredivisie champions does not seem that bad.

The Dutch champions started well, stopping Barcelona’s route to the wings by double teaming each Barca attacker and stifling play from Neymar and Alexis Sanchez.

However, on 21 minutes Lerin Duarte conceded a free-kick for a foul on Messi. The new Ajax signing clipped the heels of the Argentine magician, just outside the box. Messi lined the free-kick up and scored his 60th Champions League goal with a glorious shot that cannoned in off the post. Kenneth Vermeer in the Ajax goal could snatch at the air as the set-piece was too good for the Dutch international stopper. The first genuine chance of the match produced the opening goal.

The first-half petered out even though Ajax nearly stole an equaliser on the half-hour mark when Bojan curled a cross deep towards the far post and a diving header from Ricardo van Rhijn forced a smart reaction save from Valdes.

The visitors could have had a penalty when Sigthorsson went to ground under a challenge from Pique. The loose ball was met by Duarte, but he placed his first-time effort straight at Valdes.

Messi got his second ten minutes after the break with an excellent finish from inside the area, before Gerard Pique put gloss on the scoreline with a header from Neymar’s cross on 69 minutes.

Frank de Boer’s Ajax could have had a deserved consolation when Javier Mascherano fouled substitute Thulani Serero in the area but Sigthorsson saw his penalty beaten away by Valdes.

The win marked an emotional Champions League debut for Barca coach Tata Martino, with the win coming just a few days after the death of his father.



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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Ajax get tough draw


The Eredivisie defending champions Ajax have been drawn into the glamour group along with Barcelona, AC Milan and Glasgow Celtic.

20130818 - Ajax 2-1 Feyenoord

Progress from Group H will be a tough task for Frank de Boer’s side, especially after the impending departures of Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld this week.

The group is highlighted by Lionel Messi’s Barcelona, who will look to re-establish their European dominance under the new leadership of Argentine coach Gerardo Martino. It will be up to the new boss to guide the Blaugrana past Scottish champions Celtic. Neil Lennon’s side memorably upset Barca 2-1 in last season’s group stage last November with a dramatic late goal from Tony Watt.

PSV’s playoff conquers AC Milan will face Barca in a repeat of last year’s last sixteen clash, where the Spanish giants roared back from a 2-0 first leg loss to score four goals in the second leg and win 4-2 on aggregate.

The Group Stage matches will take place over the course of six matchdays beginning September 17th and concluding on December 11th. The top two teams from each Group will move on to the Round of 16, while the third place side will drop into the Europa League and the fourth placed club will be eliminated from European competition.

The Round of 16 will be played over two legs in February and March 2014, with the winners continuing on to a two-legged Quarterfinal in early April. The winners will march on to the Semifinals, which will be played in late April, before the winners head to the final at the Estadio de Luz in Lisbon, Portugal on May 24th, 2014.



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