Obviously, Ajax are no longer big dogs in European football, like when they won the Champions League in 1995. That squad included such luminaries as Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Edwin Van Der Sar and Patrick Kluviert. Hell, they don't even have one of my favorite all time USMNT players anymore, John O'Brien. But they still play their home games in the fantastic Amsterdam Arena, where I'm sure many Viola tifosi are looking forward to traveling for the return leg.
Marco Van Basten's Ajax are sitting third in the Eredivisie. They have a few promising young players, but apparently are missing most of their first choice midfielders. The only thing I can say about the current Ajax squad is that when I catch match highlights on GoalTV or FSC, it always seems that their young Uruguyan winger/striker Luis Suarez is either setting up or scoring the goals. He is a pacy player who seems to link well with his teammates and finishes his chances well. The Viola defense will need to be on thier toes and ready for him, and it appears that Gamberini is up for the challenge.
By all accounts, Prandelli has the boys focused ahead of this all-important first leg. Viola fans are familiar with the 2-legged knock-out stages of the UEFA Cup/Euro Vase from last season. A win would be nice but it is perhaps most important not to concede any goals so that the away goals rule won't be a concern on the trip to the Amsterdam Arena.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing that I have seen ahead of this match is the fact that Kuzmanovic has been removed from the UEFA Cup roster. Now, Santana's injury has left the team woefully thin in the middle of the park, but I'm curious as to why Kuz was excluded. Several commenters have noted that he's dipped in form this season and I agree that he was a much better contributer last year. Prandelli has very rarely allowed him to complete 90 minutes, and his production in terms of goals and assists are way down. I'm not sure why he was dropped from the roster but it is either that Kuz is less than 100% fit and therefore cannot be risked for these additional games, or that his performances are not up to standard. I'd be interested to hear from the commenters as to what you think the explanation is.
Ajax: Stolen from goal.com on account of the fact that I only know about Luis Suarez: Stekelenburg – Silva, Van der Wiel, Oleguer, Vermaelen – Lindgren, Anita, Emanuelson – Bakircioglu, Suarez, Sulejmani
Fiorentina: I think that Prandelli will field more of a 4-3-3 for this game because I think that we will see Semiloi from the start. Bassy; Zauri, Gamberini, Dainelli, Pasqual; Donadel, Melo, Montolivo, Semioli, Gila Monster, Mutu.
TeeVee and Prediction:
I'm not aware of any broadcast of the game negli Stati Uniti, but I'll do my best to post a stream if I can find one at game time tomorrow afternoon. If I can't find one, I'm sure some trustly members of the Fiorentina Calcio offside community will be able to track one down.
I'm going to go with a 2-0 home victory for Fiorentina, with my man Felipe Melo getting on the score sheet along with an appearance from the Gila Monster.