Well, well. For the past 12 weeks I’ve been bringing you plucky underdogs Ajax and their rise back to the pinnacle of European football. After narrowly missing out on becoming the first team to defend the Champions League in 95/96, this star studded Ajax team finished 4th in 96/97 and missed out on Champions League football. Somehow I’ve managed to take this team:
And return them to the summit of not just European football, but also World football, seeing as we won the World Club Cup which is obviously the pinnacle of achievement in the sporting world. Anyway, that squad has grown and whilst most of the stars remain, we’ve also added in the likes of Ronaldo, Batistuta, Henry and Dion Dublin. It’s gone pretty well.
So here we are, mere moments from potentially successfully defending the Champions League. Real Madrid may go on and do likewise tonight and I’ve done it numerous times in previous saves on this very blog, but work with me here people. This could be (fictional) history. So please, join me in suspending reality as we do a live text of the 2001 Champions League final.
18:30 – Welcome to Rotterdam, the home of Dutch giants Feyenoord, who have the rather unfortunate circumstance of their great rivals Ajax bidding for Champions League glory against Spanish giants Barcelona. For those who like a connection, Feyenoord are managed by Johan Cruyff who played and managed both clubs. I wonder who the great man is supporting tonight?
18:40 – We’ll have team news in five minutes but let’s remind ourselves of how both sides reached the final.
Barcelona beat their great rivals Real Madrid 5-1 on aggregate, sealing their final berth with a 2-1 win in the Nou Camp
Incidentally, Real Madrid were in the same group as Ajax and took 4 points off the Dutch club.
Ajax faced Tottenham over two legs and after being frustrated to a 0-0 draw in London, Black’s men eased to a 2-0 win back at the Amsterdam Arena.
18:45 – TEAM NEWS
Barcelona are missing Perez Munoz Alfonso through suspension and have surprisingly opted for Nikos Mahlas over Sonny Anderson. Mahlas was a goal machine in the Eredivisie for Utrecht but has only scored 6 goals this season. They’ve opted to match up Ajax’s formation.
Ajax meanwhile stick with their 3-1-3-3 formation which was briefly ditched to accomodate Ronaldo and Batistuta, but it was dropped due to Batistuta’s injury and the run of form that followed. Frank de Boer is the only absentee, so Zidane captains the side in his absence.
It’s going to be an incredible match, looking at the lineups.
18:50 – Although this final is being played in Ajax’s home country, there is a certain irony to it being held at De Kuip, Rotterdam – the home of Ajax’s great rivals Feyenoord
It doesn’t seem to have hindered Ajax too much in the past, winning consecutive Amstel Cup (The Dutch FA Cup) at this ground. In fact, this will be their third match in a row at the stadium, having played their final league game of the season away at Feyenoord before the Amstel Cup Final against Roda JC. What a turn up.
19:05 – We’re getting closer to kick off now so let’s have a look at some of the key players for both sides:
The former Barcelona man raised a few eyebrows when he moved back to Holland for the 1998/99 season, with many seeing it as a step down. After a disappointing first season where he netted only 12 times, the Brazilian has struck back with 36 goals last season and 32 so far this campaign. He will take some stopping.
Another Brazilian who will have a key part to play is Rivaldo. Averaging 8.30 in this season’s Champions League is an achievement in itself and Ajax need to find a way to nullify his threat in order to win.
Zinedine Zidane (Ajax)
Zidane will captain the Ajax side tonight in Frank De Boer’s absence. Very much the heartbeat of the team, he is to Ajax what Rivaldo is to Barcelona.
Luis Figo (Barcelona)
Figo’s domestic form has come in for criticism in some quarters, but in the Champions League he has been imperious as ever. Tonight he’ll be up against Kieron Dyer, playing on the wrong side, and that could be crucial.
19:20 – Under half an hour to kick off, here are some of your predictions we’ve received by SMS (Twitter doesn’t exist in 2001)
Babykangaroobet, Manchester – I’ve put £100k on Barcelona and £100k on Ajax. I can’t lose! Barca to win on pens.
MeLT, South Coast – Ajax to get a throw in after 15 seconds. Nailed on. Barcelona to win 5-2.
Lawro69, Liverpool – Ajax to clean up. Hahahaha you get it?
OctoPaul, Germany – Ajax to win 2-0, what a team
MagicMan, London – I bet my house on a Barcelona win. Rivaldo to get the winner.
19:30 – 15 minutes to go, the players will be in the tunnel here at De Kuip very soon.
The pitch looks immaculate as you would expect.
19:40 As the players are about to emerge, here’s a reminder of the lineups:
Barcelona: Vitor Baia, Grenet, Luis Enrique, Lopez, Guardiola, Garitano, Rui Costa, De la Pena (c), Figo, Rivaldo, Mahlas. Subs: Solozabal, Abel Xavier, Calado, Anderson, Mjelde
Ajax: Barthez, Cafu, Dyer, Campbell, Witschge, Bisgaard, Seedorf, Zidane (c), Sibierski, Henry, Ronaldo. Subs: Batistuta, Van der Sar, Sibon, Curtis, Litmanen.
Hit the Champions League theme song, it’s nearly kick off time!
19:45 – Barcelona kick us underway! The 2000/01 Champions League final is underway.
3 mins – Not much to report in the opening stages, both sides feeling each other out, trying to get their players settled with bouts of possession.
7 mins – We have our first shot of the game! Ronaldo races onto a pass from Zidane but from a tight angle his shot is easily gathered by Vitor Baia. A sign of his threat though, Zidane and Ronaldo are a potent combination.
10 mins – YELLOW CARD
Bit naughty from the man we were just praising. Vitor Baia comes out to claim a ball over the top and takes a clean catch, only for Ronaldo to barge him over. Very needless and a yellow card for stupidity.
15 mins – We haven’t really mentioned Nikos Mahlas so far. The Greek striker has been preferred to Sonny Anderson, somewhat surprisingly, but Mahlas was lethal in Holland for Utrecht before moving to Barcelona. He’s only scored 6 goals this season and he shows that form here, bludgeoning a cross well wide of Barthez’s goal.
19 mins – That form I was talking about. Wow. Mahlas is presented with a clear sight of goal but rather than picking out a corner, he opts for power and blazes very, very high over the bar. Oh dear.
21 mins – Barcelona are pressing for that opening goal. Rivaldo whips over a corner and Josep Guardiola meets it with a glancing header that goes wide of the far post. Not sure if he was trying to flick it on or go for goal himself but he wasn’t far away.
26 mins – Better from Ajax. Having sustained the pressure, they win a couple of corners in succession, the last of which sees Kieron Dyer head goalwards but Baia is in exactly the right spot to claim it.
30 mins – WOODWORK
I don’t know how this has stayed out, but it has!
Ronaldo takes a shot from the edge of the box which Vitor Baia tips round the post. It’s a smart save but not something you’d write home about. However, what follows would have you reaching for the quill as Richard Witschge meets Zidane’s corner flush with a header and it cannons off the crossbar. Thierry Henry is lurking on the egde of the box and he hits a first time volley back at goal but Baia re-adjusts himself to get across and tip it over for a corner. Some save, and it remains 0-0.
32 mins – Barcelona’s turn to have head in hands. Garitano shoots from distance, Barthez fumbles it and the arriving De la Pena slots it…into the advertising hoardings! A terrible miss.
Ross Jacobs via Text: Ronaldo has the ability to destroy a team on his own. Power, pace and skill. Just pass him the ball let him do the rest.
Barcelona have dealt with their former favourite so far but there’s still an hour to go.
38 mins – Clarence Seedorf, a £7.5m replacement for Ronald De Boer, has had a quiet game so far but he forces Vitor Baia into a save here, getting half a yard on the edge of the box but his shot lacks power and it’s easy for the Portugese international.
42 mins – Luis Figo isn’t known for his heading ability but he gets on the end of a floated Rivaldo ball in and panic ensues. A bit of pinball ends with Sol Campbell booting the ball into next week, or at least the middle tier.
44 mins – YELLOW CARD
The game has barely had a tackle but now we have our 2nd yellow card, this time Antoine Sibierski taps the ankles of Rivaldo and is booked. Rivaldo had got away from him but was still a long way from goal
45 mins – HALF TIME
No time for stoppages here in Rotterdam, that’s half time and it’s not the worst 0-0 we’ve ever had but it could do with a goal.
An enthralling half, but no goals. Ajax are narrowly ahead on shots but Barcelona have edged possession. Goalkeepers on top though, Barthez and Vitor Baia have been outstanding so far. Will they be required to be penalty shootout heroes later on?
The second half will be coming your way once my fingers have had a lucozade and a once over with the magic sponge.
KICK OFF – Ajax get the second half restarted as they look to retain their Champions League trophy.
48 mins – It’s a scrappy start to the half, both teams have been a little bit cautious so far.
52 mins – Garitano has the first shot of note in this second half. His forward runs from midfield have troubled Ajax a few times and they’re fortunate his shot is right down the throat of Fabien Barthez, who gathers comfortably.
55 mins – Ah now this is the hallmark of the goalscoring midfielder! Seedorf arrives late in the box to head over Henry’s cross from the left, but you know the exact type of chance. In between two centre halves, arriving in the box, should probably do better.
60 mins – An hour played, will either manager be thinking of making a sub? It’s been fairly cagey in the second half as the tension is ramping up.
64 mins – Great save! Ronaldo meets a Zidane cross and it’s a header with great direction, heading towards the bottom corner. It’s not the most powerful though and Vitor Baia scurries across to tip it wide. From the resulting corner, Sol Campbell heads wide. Sol doesn’t get many.
68 mins – GOAL! Barcelona 0 – 1 Ajax (Thierry Henry)
There it is! A goal made in France but scored in Rotterdam for Amsterdam. Or some other clever word play. Antoine Sibierski receives a pass from Zinedine Zidane on the right hand side of the box, his shot is low and hard and through the legs of the defender, Vitor Baia is down well to save it but he can only push it out as far as the arriving Thierry Henry who smashes home the loose ball. A quick check to make sure he’s onside and he’s away over to the Ajax fans to reveal a celebratory t-shirt
I’m sure that has a humorous meaning which we’ll find out about in the coming days.
70 mins – Barcelona have restarted the game but the Ajax fans are making so much noise, I’m not sure many of them are watching the game at the moment!
71 mins – GOAL! Barcelona 0 – 2 Ajax (Clarence Seedorf)
They’re watching now! Morten Bisgaard, the quiet man of this Ajax side, strides forward from midfield before passing to Seedorf, who takes one touch out of his feet before lashing a shot low and beyond Vitor Baia from the edge of the box. That might be that…
73 mins – Unsurprisingly those two quick goals have muted Barcelona’s fans. Their players are still trying to conjure something up but Ajax can defend in numbers now.
77 mins – Both managers are in discussions with their coaching staff, but I bet the conversations are very different…
83 mins – SUBSTITUTION
Ajax are the first to make a change, manager David Black applauds as Antoine Sibierski is withdrawn and Jari Litmanen is on. Bisgaard seems to have gone out to the right for these closing stages.
86 mins – The game is a bit of a procession now, both teams are pretty much waiting for the whistle.
89 mins – A Barcelona corner comes to nothing. Not their night!
FULL TIME – AJAX RETAIN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
It’s over! Ajax are the first team to retain the Champions League trophy – it’s party time for them, but spare a though for this Barcelona side that just didn’t get going in the second half.
In terms of stats, you’d have to say Ajax were worthy winners on chances created alone
Man of the match is given to Vitor Baia, which sums it up really. Question marks will be raised about why Barcelona didn’t look to their bench at any time, but then again would Abel Xavies have helped the situation?
The Ajax players are on their way to lift the trophy, it’ll be captain Zinedine Zidane who takes the honour of lifting the famous trophy
I have many skills but photoshop is not one. So here’s Zidane holding the trophy, it’s as good as it’s going to get lads.
TIme for some words from those involved.
Manager Dave Black speaking to anyone who will listen:
I couldn’t be prouder of the players. I came to Holland as a relative unknown managing world class players and I signed Dion Dublin. They still respect me, or at least tolerate me. We are the winners!
The Ronaldo name will go down in history. No Ronaldo will ever surpass this!
Hopefully we’ll win many more, there’s no better feeling. I hope to win more as a player but then I’ll be back as a manager. I think I could retain it as a manager too…
Thierry Henry on that T-shirt:
Google it. Know your niche Premier League humour
We’ve been through a lot together. Join me tomorrow for the full run down of the end of Season 4 (spoiler alert, Ajax win the Champions League) but then I’m going for a lie down for a few months.
Hopefully you enjoyed my dabble at a live text, and if you know somebody who could also like my interpretation of a live text, be a dear and tell them about this please. Thanks for reading!