Four-time UEFA Champions League winners, Ajax, got a wake up call recently after being knocked out of top position of the Eredivisie for the first time in four seasons. Who did it to them? PSV Eindhoven, so now the reality is that Ajax must face the pressure of a Champions League third-round qualifier so that they don’t miss out on the group-stages. If they do, it’ll be the first time since 2010. Frank de Boer, Ajax’s manager is very confident that they’ll be ready for test in Vienna. They’ll travel to Austria for the first leg of their battle with Rapid Vienna on Wednesday July 30th.
The Dutch side are one of three former champions contending at this early stage. Ajax are going to try to fight their way to a sixth-successive appearance in the Champions League group stages this year. And so far, De Boer has been pleased with their pre-season and likes their prospects: “The preparation has been good,” he told media and the club’s official website. “Especially as we had only four weeks, where there are usually six or seven. He continued, “While the boys may have slightly fewer matches in the legs, I feel that we are ready for it. We are ready for Rapid, the challenge now is to put the finishing touches together.”
Rapid Wien, who is the current Austrian Bundesliga champions, will try to block the Amsterdam club’s path to the group-stages. The odds are not in Rapid Wien’s favour, even with the Dutch side playing the first-leg away from home, many betting sites have Ajax as the 8/5 favourites to take advantage in the current tie with a win. And many believe backing the favourites will pay off.
For one, Ajax has played in the group-stage of Europe’s pre-eminent club competition in each of the last five seasons. Where as, Vienna has only made it into the competition twice in the past 10 years. That’s a huge deficit in experience to make up for. And so, it’s hard to put these two teams on even playing ground, as there is little comparison between them in terms of European pedigree. Ajax has beaten teams like Manchester City and Barcelona in the group-stages convincingly, in the last two seasons.
They also without fail produce some of the best youth talent in the European game, for example: Wesley Sneijder; Rafael van der Vaart; Zlatan Ibrahimović; Klaas-Jan Huntelaar; Luis Suárez and Thomas Vermaelen. That’s just to name a few notable recent examples who have put on the jerseys of leading Champions League teams. To add, Rapid Wien failed just last year to qualify for the Europa League via the qualifiers.
Second, Ajax last won the Champions League in 1995, and de Boer has invested heavily in his team with powerful talent. They’ve recruited a promising young German striker, Amin Younes, from Borussia Monchengladbach; they have Serbian midfielder, Nemanja Gudelj, from AZ Alkmaar and have on loan from Arsenal, the under-age French forward Yaya Sanogo.
And lastly, Ajax also succeeded in making the deal for Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik from Bayer Leverkusen permanent; the Tychy native was the Eredivisie’s top-scorer last term netting 23 goals.
But that doesn’t mean that Rapid can be written off. Standing at odds of 13/8 on their home turf of the first-leg, if they can upset Ajax, those odds could pay off greatly.
Zoran Barisic has inspired a young hungry squad of technically gifted players who are very similar to the Ajax model, to play hard. Although they built on a smaller budget, the team has skill and heart. Rapid won their 32nd Austrian league title last season. They also have inauguarated their 2015/16 season very positively, by winning their Austrian Cup and league openers against SK Wien and Reid, whereas Ajax still have to kick-off their season in the Eredivisie.
Due to this earlier start Rapid just might be in better shape, and may well possess a crucial advtangae going into the game in terms of match-sharpness and agility.
Our Pick: Rapid to earn a draw at home against Ajax for a big payoff