Ajax need Man United ego boost
AJAX Cape Town welcome Manchester United to the Cape Town stadium tomorrow afternoon, desperately in need of a lift after what has been a torrid few months for the club.
Not too much can be read into pre-season friendlies, but with Ajax approaching crisis point, a positive performance and result would mean a lot to the players and management.
Their failure to finish in the top eight and qualify for the MTN8 at the end of last season was a huge blow for a club that had finished second the season before.
In addition, Ajax embarrassingly unveiled Bafana Bafana striker Bradley Grobler as a new team member, only for it to later emerge that no deal had, in fact, been made with Turkish side Goztepe. They also lost George Maluleka to Supersport United.
Boardroom battles have threatened to poison the team.
While management has claimed its spats have not negatively influenced the team's performance on the pitch, more than one Ajax star has privately disagreed.
And so tomorrow's match against arguably the biggest club in the world - in fan support at least - is an opportunity to put all that negativity behind them and restore some confidence to the ailing club.
Ajax coach Maarten Stekelenburg will be without injured defenders Cecil Lolo and Aiden Jenniker, as well as new Dutch import Koen van der Laak, who would have added much-needed experience to the midfield.
That news will be tempered by the return of veteran Brent Carelse and club captain Granwald Scott, who missed the 1-0 friendly defeat by Vasco da Gama earlier this week.
United coach Alex Ferguson has said he is likely to start the club's new Japanese star Shinji Kagawa, who came on in the dying minutes of the game against Amazulu on Wednesday.
Kagawa secured the second-biggest cheer of the night against Usuthu, behind veteran midfielder Paul Scholes, and all the eyes of the world will be on him in Cape Town after his high-profile move from German "double" winners Borussia Dortmund.
Ferguson has admitted there was plenty of rustiness against Amazulu, suggesting his players tired in the second half.
He expects a better display against Ajax, and, aside from Kagawa, the Scot is likely to start with experienced internationals Anderson and Antonio Valencia.
In the greater scheme of things, tomorrow's result matters little, but for a club desperate for some "good news", Ajax would benefit greatly from a win.