Can fearless Ajax beat Juventus to reach their first Champions League semi-final since 1996/97?
Ajax are going to be playing to reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 1996/97 against Juventus on Tuesday night, with Juventus being the very side that knocked them out 22 years ago.
The Dutch team is full of young, fearless players, yet they are definitely well and truly in the unknown now, as the last time that they managed to go through to a semi-final, when they had beaten Atletico Madrid in the Quarter Finals. However, they eventually got knocked out by the reigning Champions League winners, Juventus, in the Semi Finals. However, that was a completely different time in football.
Before the rise of English football and the Premier League, and before the rise of Barcelona, Ajax were the dominant footballing side in the world, with the club being deemed a "football factory", due to the sheer amount of talent that came out of the youth academy.
However, whilst in the past they managed to replace the quality players that they lost, such as Dennis Bergkamp, the de Boer brothers, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Marco van Basten, the club faced a torrid time in the early 2000s, when they could not replace the quality with even more quality, often ending up stars that were destined to leave very early in their careers.
Juventus, also managed to beat Ajax in the final in 1995/96, beating the famous Ajax side 4-2 on penalties, after the result could not be decided after extra-time, when the two sides were locked in a 1-1 draw.
This season, they have managed to build a new team, made up of plenty of young players, with some of them not even born when Juventus beat Ajax in 1997, with Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong both being born after 1997.
To emphasise how inexperienced in the latter stages of the Champions League the Ajax squad is, even the players that were bought last summer lack that sort of experience, with Daley Blind having got as far as the group stages on two occasions with Manchester United, whilst Dusan Tadic has never played in the Champions League prior to coming to the Dutch club.
Therefore, Ajax have to trust themselves and keep on fighting fearlessly to have a chance of progressing, and they have so far managed to do so this season. They defied all odds when they demolished Real Madrid 5-3 on aggregate, whilst they also manage to hold on and get two very respectable draws against Bayern Munich in the group stage.
Ajax have shown that they are capable of contesting at the highest level, and last Wednesday they also showed it, outplaying Juventus on all fronts, deeming themselves unlucky to only walk away with a draw from the John Cruijff Arena.
The game on Tuesday at Turin will surely be this Ajax generation's biggest match so far, and they will be hoping that the exciting and magical football that they have showcased throughout this season, will be on show again, especially against a team as experienced in the competition as Juventus, who lost the 2014/15 and 2016/17 finals. Apart from this, Juventus are desperate to finally win the competition once again, and with Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks, they are definitely one of the favourites to do so.
Ajax may well be the underdogs against Juventus on Tuesday, but they have shown this season that they have what it takes to challenge even the mightiest of teams, and maybe this is just the start of a new generation for the club. Johan Cruyff would be proud.