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Group B Roundup

Ajax frustrates Arsenal at Highbury; Valencia wins

Posted: Tuesday February 18, 2003 5:02 PM
Updated: Tuesday February 18, 2003 7:32 PM
  Stephen Pienaar, Patrick Vieira Stephen Pienaar (left) and Ajax held off Arsenal and Patrick Vieira. Ben Radford/Getty Images

LONDON (Reuters) -- Arsenal missed the chance to take a giant step towards the quarterfinals of the Champions League on Tuesday when they were held to a 1-1 home draw by resurgent Ajax Amsterdam in their Group B clash at Highbury.

Sylvain Wiltord fired the English champions into a deserved fifth-minute lead but once Nigel De Jong equalized in the 17th it minute it was honors even.

The draw, Arsenal's third in a row at home in the competition, left both sides with five points from three matches. Valencia, 1-0 winners over AS Roma, also have five, with the Italians yet to register.

Arsenal and Ajax, who both won their domestic league and cup double last season, will meet again in Amsterdam next Wednesday with the momentum swinging towards the Dutch four-times European Champions.

"We certainly didn't count on getting a point from both away games at Valencia and Arsenal but we played very well defensively tonight," said Ajax coach Ronald Koeman. "We are a young team and it is hard to criticize but we can play better, certainly in attack.

"Arsenal didn't play as well as they can, but our performance had a lot to do with that."

Arsenal started where they left off on Saturday at Old Trafford, roaring forward with pace and confidence.

Dennis Bergkamp, rested from that FA Cup victory over Manchester United, was instantly into his stride and after five minutes the former Ajax favorite's perfectly weighted pass put Wiltord in on the right.

The French midfielder cut in to the box and seemed to have gone too far before shooting through the legs of keeper Bogdan Lobont.

First attack

Arsenal continued to dominate but were caught by Ajax's first attack of the match in the 17th minute.

Defender Tomas Galasek swept a 50 meter pass into the path of De Jong and the 18-year-old midfielder, one of only two Dutchman in the starting lineup, curled a left footed shot beyond England goalkeeper David Seaman for his first goal for the club.

It gave the multinational young visitors an immediate lift and they visibly grew in confidence.

South African midfielder Steven Pienaar began probing and causing Patrick Vieira problems while De Jong and Andy Van der Meyde suddenly started putting some zip into their passes.

Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Brazilian midfielder Maxwell had chances while Thierry Henry and Bergkamp were making no progress on the edge of the Ajax box.

Scrambling save

Robert Pires showed neat control to create a couple of openings but sent one wide and the other high into the stand, while Henry, below his best all night, forced a scrambling save from Lobont five minutes before the break.

Arsenal lost Seaman to a hip injury at the break, Stuart Taylor coming on for a rare game.

Gilberto failed to get any weight behind a sidefooted shot six minutes after the break, allowing Lobont to smother and it was not until the 72nd minute when they threatened again, when Bergkamp clipped the outside of a post with a shot out of nothing on the turn.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger sent on striker Francis Jeffers with 20 minutes to go and then replaced Bergkamp with another former Ajax man, Nwankwo Kanu, in a desperate attempt to win it.

The Nigerian did fire one last-gasp shot over the bar but it was an Ajax substitute, Nourdin Boukhari, who went closest to a winner four minutes from time when he beat Taylor to a low cross but bundled the ball just wide.

Arsenal's assistant coach Pat Rice, who replaced Wenger at the news conference because the Frenchman had lost his voice, said he was confident the Londoners could get a victory in the return next week.

"It looks as if Roma may be out of it so the Amsterdam game is going to be very important for us and the whole group," he said.

"We got a great start tonight but they defended quite well and were always getting a foot in.

"It's going to be interesting over there. We will have to see how they are when they have a go at you.

"Obviously we would like to have seven or eight points at this stage. It is still open but we are confident we will go through."

Seaman in race to be fit for Man City match

LONDON (Reuters) -- Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman could miss Saturday's Premier League trip to Manchester City after injuring his hip in the first half of Tuesday's Champions League match against Ajax Amsterdam.

The England veteran was substituted at halftime and replaced by Stuart Taylor during Tuesday's game which ended in a 1-1 draw at Highbury.

"David felt his hip at halftime and didn't want to take any chances," said assistant Arsenal coach Pat Rice.

"We will have a look at it tomorrow or Thursday but we don't know about Saturday's game against Manchester City yet.

"I thought Stuart did very well when he came on and we've also got the Frenchman [Guillaume Warmuz]."

Rice said though that center back Martin Keown, who missed the game with a back strain, would be fit.

Summary

Arsenal 1 Ajax Amsterdam 1 -- result

Champions League second phase, Group B

Scorers:

Arsenal -- Sylvain Wiltord 5

Ajax -- Nigel De Jong 17

Halftime: 1-1; Attendance: 35,427

Teams:

Arsenal: 1-David Seaman (13-Stuart Taylor 46); 3-Ashley Cole, 4-Patrick Vieira, 7-Robert Pires, 10-Dennis Bergkamp (25-Nwankwo Kanu 85), 11-Sylvain Wiltord, 12-Lauren, 14-Thierry Henry, 18-Pascal Cygen, 19-Gilberto Silva (9-Francis Jeffers 72), 23-Sol Campbell

Ajax: 1-Bogdan Lobont; 2-Hatem Trabelsi, 4-Tomas Galasek, 5-Cristian Chivu, 7-Andy van der Meyde, 9-Zlatan Ibrahimovic (28-Nordin Boukhari 79), 10-Steven Pienaar (22-Abubakari Yakubu 90), 13-Maxwell, 16-Petri Pasanen, 24-Jelle Van Damme (8-Richard Witschge 76), 26-Nigel De Jong

Referee: Lucillo Cardoso Cortez Batista (Portugal)

Freak Valencia goal leaves Roma's hopes in tatters

ROME (Reuters) -- A freak goal by Valencia striker John Carew left AS Roma's prospects of reaching the quarterfinals of the Champions League in tatters as the Italian side lost 1-0 to the Spanish club on Tuesday.

The winner arrived in the 79th minute when Norwegian striker Carew spotted Roma keeper Ivan Pelizzoli out of position and curled a harmless-looking ball into the area which slipped in at the near post.

It was a fitting finale to a scrappy match, in which neither side had distinguished itself but which leaves Roma bottom of Group B with no points after three games. Valencia join Arsenal and Ajax on five.

The home side -- depleted by injuries to key players -- had looked marginally the stronger in the opening stages, but were let down by poor finishing by striker Vincenzo Montella.

But then Carew scored and the life drained out of the home side, who exited amid whistles and must now hope for a miracle if they are to finish in the top two.

Roma's chances of victory looked slim even before a ball had been kicked in anger with absences in every area of the pitch.

Captain Francesco Totti and midfielder Vincent Candela were both injured while defender Walter Samuel and midfielder Emerson were suspended.

Roma coach Fabio Capello's hopes of redeeming his side's poor Serie A season with a resurrection in the Champions League were damaged further by the ineligibility of January signings striker Massimo Marazzina and midfielder Olivier Dacourt.

Excellent spell

Valencia, meanwhile, arrived on the back of an excellent spell in the Spanish league, where they had won four of their previous five encounters to climb to third in the table.

Neither team distinguished itself in a scrappy first half, although Montella headed narrowly wide from Cafu's cross in the 10th minute.

In the 25th minute Valencia midfielder Francisco Rufete rifled in a shot from 30 yards that forced keeper Pelizzoli to tip the ball over the bar.

Four minutes later Roma striker Marco Delvecchio almost beat Santiago Canizares at the other end with a looping header.

Capello had replaced Montella at halftime with 20-year-old Antonio Cassano in the hope that the ex-Bari striker could add some precision to Roma's attack.

Roma again came close in the 67th minute when midfielder Damiano Tommasi's clever flick over the Valencia defence picked out Cafu on the right of the area, but the Brazilian volleyed into the side netting.

With 12 minutes left, as the game stalled in midfield, Valencia midfielder Ruben Baraja tried to surprise Pelizzoli with a 25-meters snapshot that the young keeper did well to block.

A minute later, however, Pelizzoli could only watch in horror as Carew's cross crept in at his near post, as he waited at the other end of his goal-line.

Valencia coach Benitez happy with freak goal

ROME (Reuters) -- Valencia coach Rafael Benitez shrugged off suggestions that his side did not deserve all three points in their Champions League clash with AS Roma, after they won 1-0 thanks to a freakish second-half goal by Norwegian striker John Carew.

The Spanish champions appeared on the verge of playing out a scrappy scoreless draw in Rome's Olympic Stadium when Carew, wide on the right, beat keeper Ivan Pelizzoli with a low cross that crept in at the near post.

"It wasn't a pretty match," Benitez said afterwards.

"But we always tried to win it and hit Roma on the counterattack whenever possible.

"To talk about 'the right result' or 'justice' in football doesn't make much sense. It's a win -- three more points in the bag -- and that's enough."

Roma remain stranded at the bottom of group B with no points from their first three games.

Valencia, who had never won a Champions League match away in Italy, joined Arsenal and Ajax on five points in a three-way tussle for the two quarterfinal berths.

"Now we've got two matches at home ahead of us with the crowd behind us," said Benitez.

Benitez's counterpart, Fabio Capello, lamented his team's bad luck.

"This is just the latest in a series of negative results for us," he said.

"There's something that keeps knocking us off track this season," he continued, recalling the bizarre goal that sank his side in their last Champions League clash against Ajax in December.

That time a ball hit Pelizzoli's predecessor in goal, Francesco Antonioli, in the head, before landing invitingly for an Ajax striker to knock home.

The Italian side's chances of putting a disappointing season in Serie A behind them with a run in Europe now seem remote.

Summary

AS Roma 0 Valencia 1 -- result

Champions League second phase, Group B

Scorer: John Carew 79

Halftime 0-0; Attendence: 40,000

Teams:

AS Roma: 22-Ivan Pelizzoli; 5-Jonathan Zebina, 31-Traianos Dellas (20-Davide Bombardini 54), 6-Aldair, 23-Christian Panucci; 2-Cafu, 17-Damiano Tommasi, 8-Lima, 25-Gianni Guigou; 9-Vincenzo Montella (18-Antonio Cassano 46), 24-Marco Delvecchio (13-Leandro Cufre 54)

Valencia: 1-Santiago Canizares; 33-Anthony Reveillere, 4-Fabian Ayala, 2-Mauricio Pellegrino, 15-Amedeo Carboni; 19-Francisco Rufete (20-Mista 72), 6-David Albelda, 8-Ruben Baraja, 14-Vicente Rodriguez (18-Kily Gonzalez 62); 21-Pablo Aimar (12-Carlos Marchena 88), 7-John Carew

Referee: Wolgang Stark (Germany)

 
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