Ajax 2 inter Milan 2
By James Whelan, Amsterdam Arena
AJAX will be kicking themselves after throwing away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Inter Milan in the first leg of their last 16 Champions League tie here last night.
The Dutch giants, winners of the European Cup on four occasions, were 2-0 up after 20 minutes thanks to goals from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Mauro Morales.
But they took their foot off the pedal after a superb start and Dejan Stankovic and Julio Cruz made them pay dearly in the second half to give Inter the upper hand going into the return leg at the San Siro.
Inter, who have twice been crowned European champions, came into the match low on confidence having taken just one point from their last three Serie A games and falling 12 points behind leaders Juventus.
And their morale sank lower in the 16th minute when Ajax took the lead.
Ivan Cordoba’s wild clearance fell for Morales, who was unmarked on the edge of the 18-yard box.
The quick-footed Argentine cushioned the ball on his chest and crossed first time for Huntelaar and his powerful header gave Francesco Toldo no chance.
Inter were unhappy with the goal, claiming Huntelaar - scorer of four goals against Roosendaal at the weekend - had fouled Walter Samuel to get to the ball first.
Ajax had Inter in deeper trouble four minutes later.
Nourdin Boukhari robbed Esteban Cambiasso wide on the left and crossed low for Morales who tucked the ball past Toldo from close range.
Inter almost halved the deficit on the stroke of half time. First Cruz and then Cordoba hit the crossbar, but Ajax rode their luck to retain their comfortable cushion going into the break.
The visitors were not to be denied and they reopened the contest four minutes after the restart.
Stankovic was given far too much space inside the box and tried his luck from 12 yards.
The Serbian midfielder’s shot lacked any real power, but it took two wicked deflections to deceive Maarten Stekelen who was left clutching at thin air.
Ajax were visibly rocked and their plight worsened four minutes from time when Inter equalised.
Luis Figo’s jaw-dropping pass released Cambiasso who fed Cruz and the lanky Argentinian swept the ball home with aplomb.
AJAX: Stekelenburg, Trabelsi, Heitinga, Vermaelen, Emanuelson, Maduro, Lindenbergh, Boukhari, Rosales (Babel 89), Rosenberg, Huntelaar.
INTER MILAN: Toldo, Javier Zanetti, Cordoba, Samuel, Burdisso, Figo, Cambiasso, Stankovic, Cesar (Pizarro 45), Cruz, Adriano (Martins 65).
Referee: Wolfgang Stark (Germany).