Ajax coach, Frank De Boer, believes the absence of number one keeper Maarten Stekelenburg will not prevent his team from grabbing the needed result in an away game against Spartak Moscow in the Europa League Round of 16.
Ajax already faced a tough test against a Spartak Moscow side they have not beaten in three attempts.
However, that task may become even harder, after Serb striker Miralem Sulejmani was forced to sit out his side’s final training session, as he was trying to get past passport control at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
Although Serbia has a visa waiver program with Russia, Sulejmani has an old passport, which caused the hold up.
“It’s an issue and, especially, for Miralem, but the other players have to be focused. They’ve already started preparations today and hopefully at the end of the game we’ll have a good result,” Frank De Boer, Ajax coach, explained.
If the Dutchman did not already have enough problems, De Boer, who played on the losing side in both legs for Ajax in their Champions League quarterfinal against Spartak in 1998, will also be without goalkeeper, Maarten Stekelenburg.
The Dutch number one broke his thumb and will be out of action for at least six weeks.
“Of course, he’s one of the best keepers, Maarten Stekelenburg, so it’s a big setback for us, but still we have a lot of confidence in Jeroen [Verhoeven, substitute keeper],” the Ajax coach said.
Ajax will also have to contend with Spartak’s plastic pitch, but De Boer does not believe that will hinder his men.
Of more importance, is finding the back of the net, something that Ajax had plenty of chances to do in the first leg, but failed to achieve.
“Hopefully, we’re going to create chances. At the European level, normally, you’ll create – like we did last week – ten good chances and ten half-good chances, it’s a lot… Now I have confidence in our players that we’ll succeed and make goals,” Ajax coach added.
Spartak hold a slender lead from the first leg. However, Ajax, who are in a three-way battle for the Dutch title, and last lost domestically almost two months ago, will be hoping they can finally manage to get their first win against their Russian opponents in the fourth attempt.
Meanwhile, Spartak had a surprise 4-0 defeat to Rostov in the Russian Premier League last weekend. But they will hope to put that behind them in front of home fans at the Luzhniki stadium.
CSKA are also chasing the their tie against Porto.
“Psychologically, the team that played at Rostov and the one that’ll play Ajax are worlds apart. We’re going to field a lot of players, who didn’t play at Rostov at all. I don’t think that defeat could somehow affect their moods. So I don’t have any particular fears over Spartak’s morale ahead of the clash,” Valrey Karpin, Spartak coach, said.
Two other Russian teams are in Europa League action on the night, with CSKA traveling to Porto and Zenit entertaining Twente in St Pete after a 3-0 away loss.