Ajax and Bayern in tasty Champions League duel for first place

ajax and bayern in tasty champions league duel for first place

The heirs of Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer meet on Wednesday when Ajax Amsterdam host Bayern Munich in a showdown for first place in their Champions League group.

The match in the Johan Cruyff Arena brings together two of only five sides who have lifted all three European trophies and won the Champions event three times each in the 1970s – led by Cruyff and Beckenbauer, respectively.

While Bayern have the coveted trophy again in 2001 and 2013, and also reached the final several times, Ajax' last success in the elite event dates back to 1995 and their last final to the following year.

The Bosman ruling which ended foreign player restrictions at the same time helped trigger a steady exodus of Ajax talents who learnt the game in their famous youth academy – ranging from 1995 match winner Patrick Kluivert to the current generation led by midfielder Frenkie de Jong.

More money and more competitive leagues than the Eredivisie (which Ajax won for the last time in 2014) elsewhere are seen as key motives for the departures.

As a result, their success on the continent has stalled. Ajax reached the Europa League final in 2016 but failed to qualify for the Champions League on several occasions and are now in the last 16 for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

Coach Erik ten Hag, formerly a Bayern reserve team trainer, has named reaching the knock-outs "a new frontier" and a turning point in their European fortunes.

But with the midfielder de Jong heavily linked with the likes of Barcelona and Manchester City, and others like defender Matthijs de Ligt also sought by top clubs, the latest generation could also be on its way out.

“It will be impossible to keep this team together in the summer,” director Marc Overmars has said.

Officials hope that Ajax can become regulars in the later stages of the Champions League again but for now Ajax are happy to be in the last 16 again.

"we can be very proud of ourselves," Moroccan midfielder Noussair Mazraoui said, adding that he and the others have learnt a lot by playing in the elite event.

Like Bayern, Ajax qualified in the penultimate round, by winning 2-0 at Greek side AEK, and they won't be afraid of the Germans as they were the better team in a 1-1 draw in Munich where Lasse Schoene was denied a late winner by the crossbar.

Both teams have conceded only two goals in the group for which Munich were qualified directly while Ajax had to go through two qualifying rounds and a play-off tie against Dynamo Kiev.

There series is evenly balanced at three wins each and three draws, and neither side has managed a win away from home against each other.

Bayern are two points ahead of Ajax and require only a draw to finish top while Ajax need a win to be first which would make them avoid some heavyweights like holders Real Madrid and Barcelona in the last 16.

"We want to finish first … and must be ready for the match," Serbian forward Dusan Tadic said.

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