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Preview: Ajax vs. Lille

Last season’s Champions League semi-finalists Ajax begin their quest to repeat and surpass those heroics when they host Lille in their opening Group H outing on Tuesday night.

The Dutch outfit were forced to come through qualifying stages to reach the competition proper despite their performances in 2018-19, whereas Lille’s second-placed finish in Ligue 1 was enough to earn them a first Champions League campaign for seven years.

Match preview

Liverpool may have lifted the trophy in May and Tottenham Hotspur may have gone one better than Ajax in reaching the final, but for many the Dutch outfit were the team of last season’s Champions League.

Rolling back the years to their previous glory days in this competition, Ajax claimed the scalps of Real Madrid and Juventus in swashbuckling style en route to the semi-finals, where they were dramatically bested by eventual runners-up Spurs.

The heartbreaking manner of the defeat does not appear to have caused any hangover going into the new season, though, and nor has the exits of key players such as Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong.

Erik ten Hag’s side are unbeaten in 10 matches across all competitions since the beginning of the campaign, quickly rising back to the top of the Eredivisie table after claiming their first title since 2014 last term.

Indeed, even without their memorable surge to the Champions League semi-finals it would have been a standout season for Ajax as they also won the KNVB Beker to secure their first double since 2002.

Among their matches already this season have been aggregate victories over PAOK and APOEL in Champions League qualifying, although having to go the long route certainly will not faze them having done the same in 2018-19.

Ajax were the first side in European Cup history to make it all the way from the second qualifying round to the semi-finals, losing just two of 18 European outings throughout the campaign.

A trip to the Johan Cruyff ArenA is a daunting way for Lille to make their Champions League return, then, having not featured in the competition proper since 2012-13.

It is certainly a step up from their last European foray – defeat to Gabala of Azerbaijan in the third qualifying round of the 2016-17 Europa League – and they too have had to cope with the loss of a star player in Nicolas Pepe.

Christophe Galtier’s side have alternated between wins and defeats in their opening five Ligue 1 games this term to sit fifth in the table, although they do come into this match off the back of a victory over Angers on Friday night.

Both of their away games so far have ended in defeat without Lille scoring, though, and they are five games without an away win in European football stretching back to 2014.

Ajax form: WWDWWW

Lille form: WLWLW

Amsterdamsche Football Club Ajax is a Dutch professional football club based in Amsterdam, that plays in the Eredivisie, the top tier in Dutch football. Historically, Ajax (named after the legendary Greek hero) has been the most successful club in the Netherlands, with 34 Eredivisie titles and 19 KNVB Cups. It has continuously played in the Eredivisie, since the league’s inception in 1956 and, along with Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven, it is one of the country’s “big three” clubs that have dominated that competition.

Ajax has historically been one of the most successful clubs in the world. According to the IFFHS, Ajax were the seventh-most successful European club of the 20th century and The World’s Club Team of the Year in 1992.[4] According to German magazine Kicker, Ajax were the second-most successful European club of the 20th century. The club is one of the five teams that has earned the right to keep the European Cup and to wear a multiple-winner badge; they won consecutively in 1971–1973. In 1972, they completed the continental treble by winning the Eredivisie, KNVB Cup, and the European Cup. It also won the first organized UEFA Super Cup in 1972 against Glasgow Rangers (played in 1973). Ajax’s last international trophies were the 1995 Intercontinental Cup, 1995 UEFA Super Cup and the 1995 Champions League, where they defeated Milan in the final; they lost the 1996 Champions League final on penalties to Juventus. In 1995, Ajax was crowned as World Team of the Year by World Soccer magazine.

Ajax is also one of four teams to win the continental treble and the Intercontinental Cup or Club World Cup in the same season/calendar year;[5] This was achieved in the 1971–72 season.[6] Ajax, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Manchester United are the five clubs to have won all three major UEFA club competitions.[7] They have also won the Intercontinental Cup twice, the 1991–92 UEFA Cup, as well as the Karl Rappan Cup, a predecessor of the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 1962.[8] Ajax plays at the Johan Cruyff Arena, which opened as the Amsterdam ArenA in 1996 and was renamed in 2018. They previously played at De Meer Stadion and the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium (for international matches).

Stadium :Amsterdam ArenA

Opening: 1996 | Capacity: 53,748 seats

The Amsterdam ArenA was built between 1993 and 1996. It replaced Ajax’s previous home De Meer, which, with a capacity of 19,000 seats, had become too small for the club.

The Amsterdam ArenA officially opened on the 14th of August 1996 with a match between Ajax and AC Milan (0-3). The first goal in the new arena was scored by Dejan Savicevic. Total construction costs had amounted to €96 million.

The Amsterdam ArenA was the first football stadium in Europe with a retractable roof. It takes about 20 minutes to open or close the roof.

Shortly after the opening, it turned out that the stadium design had not accounted for good grass growing conditions, and as a result the pitch had to get renewed up to 5 times a year. These problems were later resolved with the installation of innovative grass growing technology, consisting of a combination of lamps, wind turbines, and water sprinklers.

The Amsterdam ArenA counts with a total of 2,229 business seats and a further 820 seats in sky boxes. The stands are among the steepest in Europe, with the second tier having an angle of 37 degrees.

In 1998, the stadium hosted the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Juventus (1-0), and in 2013 the Europa League final between Chelsea and Benfica (2-1).

The Amsterdam ArenA was one of the playing venues of the Euro 2000 championships, hosting three group match, a quarter-final, and the semi-final between Holland and Italy (0-0).

The stadium has been chosen to be one of the playing venues of the Euro 2020 tournament, which is played across different countries. For this, the stadium will be refurbished resulting in larger concourses and a new facade.