Ajax have clearly overachieved in the Champions League this season. Entering the knockout stages for the first time since 2003 for a team used to seeing its budding and brightest stars cherry-picked even before they have fully blossomed, is major.
Erik ten Hag’s side defeated defending champions Real Madrid in the round of 16 to get to the quarter-final stage where they meet Serie A side, Juventus.
Barcelona-bound midfielder, Frenkie de Jong, the latest of the plucked talents from Ajax impressive conveyor belt, has been impressive for Ajax alongside Dusan Tadic who has been called the Cristiano Ronaldo of Ajax by his teammate Matthijs de Ligt.
Though Tadic has been involved in nine Champions League goals and created 22 chances, the comparison speaks of Ronaldo’s stated influence in the European stages.
After winning three Champions League titles consecutively, the Champions League all-time highest goalscorer joined Juventus from Real Madrid. The Italian giants have a bit of an understated obsession with winning the Champions League after reaching the finals twice without winning in the past four years.
Ronaldo has already shown his importance in Juventus’ quest for Champions League glory when his hat-trick dragged them past Atletico in the first round of the knockout stages.
It is the reason Emre Can confessed that “The Ronaldo effect is huge.”
“Even at 34, he always wants to be the best and show the world match by match again what he can do. His performance against Atletico was insane.”
After the Atletico match, Ronaldo picked up an injury while playing for Portugal in a Euro 2020 qualifier against Serbia on 25 March. There were doubts over the star’s ability for the game against Ajax but manager’s remarks in the press conference that the forward will be in the starting lineup did much to allay the fears of fans.
“Cristiano has trained with the team and is available,” said the Massimiliano Allegri.
With or without Ronaldo the quality of Juventus overshadows Ajax. As the manager of Ajax admitted, the task before them is different and more difficult.
“A couple of months ago, we found our form and returned to being a strong team,” said Ten Hag.
“It will be another big obstacle to overcome after Real, but we will play as usual and we will have to be good at reading the game.”
Motivated de Jong hopes Ajax can pull off another feat against Juventus while showing they are on the same level.
“We made it to the quarter-finals, and the highlight of it all was doing that by eliminating Real Madrid. We really showed everyone what we can do, and hopefully we can show that again against Juventus.”
“How do we feel? Really motivated, just like the other teams in the quarter-finals. We are of course the new kids on the block. But I think we showed everyone that we are playing at the same level as the other teams, and hopefully against Juventus we can show everyone that we are just as good as them or even better.”