Ajax begin their quest for the Champions League group stages on Wednesday as they face Austrian side Rapid Vienna in the first leg of their third round qualifier.

milikjaperThe Amsterdam club have featured in the tournament’s group stages for the past four seasons after lifting the Eredivisie trophy each year since 2011, but after finishing 2nd last season Ajax now need to pass through two qualifiers. First up for Frank de Boer’s side will be Austrian side Rapid Vienna, who finished 2nd in the Austrian Bundesliga last season, but haven’t featured in the Champions League group stages since 2006.

Ajax may appear to be the favourites on paper, but they can not underestimate the side from Vienna, especially after the heavy defeat suffered to Red Bull Salzburg in the Europa League in 2014.

Defender Joel Veltman played in both legs against Red Bull Salzburg, and he said on Rapid Vienna, “A great opponent, but we will not underestimate them.”

On the defeat to Red Bull he added, “We thought then: the champion of Austria, a great opponent. But while everyone expected us to win against Red Bull, we were bulldozed. I’ve never actually seen a game where we were so hopeless. ”

Pre-season has been mixed for Ajax, with their only win coming against Panathinaikos, but they were excellent in a 1-1 draw against German side Wolfsburg. A week ago Ajax finished their preparation’s for the game in Austria with a 1-0 defeat to Saint-Etienne, in a game that was dominated by the Dutch side, who just couldn’t finish their chances.

De Boer will be without Amin Younes, Mike van der Hoorn and Lucas Andersen for the first leg, while Ricardo Kishna is also unavailable as he closes in on a move to Lazio. Doubts have risen over the fitness of Jasper Cillessen, who is struggling with a calf injury, but Nemanja Gudelj and Yaya Sanogo could make their official debuts for the club, along with returning duo John Heitinga and Mitchell Dijks

Possible Ajax Line-up: Cillessen, Van Rhijn, Dijks, Veltman, Riedewald/Heitinga, Bazoer, Klaassen, Sinkgraven/Gudelj, El Ghazi, Schone, Milik

Rapid Vienna have already began their season in Austria with a 5-1 cup win over Weiz being followed up by a 3-0 win over Ried in the Bundesliga. Striker Robert Beric has attracted several clubs after scoring 28 goals in 37 league games for the club, and the 24-year-old Slovenian will pose the biggest threat to the Ajax defence.

Possible Rapid Vienna line-up: Novato, Auer, Stangl, Sonnleitner, Hofmann, Petsos, Schwab, Hofmann, Kainz, Schobesber, Beric

After disappointing performances in Europe by Dutch clubs over the past few years its crucial that Ajax qualify for the next stage of the Champions League qualifying and at least gain entrance to the Europa League. Rapid Vienna have enjoyed a great pre-season and positive start to their league campaign, but over two legs Ajax, with the attacking threat of Milik, El Ghazi, and Fischer should prove too strong.

A score draw in Austria would put Ajax in firm control heading into the second leg in Amsterdam Arena next week.




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