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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ajax at Full Strength Against Greeks

COMBINED REPORTS


AMSTERDAM -- Panathinaikos attempt to upset the odds in Wednesday's European Cup semifinal, first-leg, clash with holder Ajax Amsterdam in a match its coach Juan Ramon Rocha sees as "a rendezvous with history."


Four-time winners Ajax would appear to have history on its side as it bids to extend a record 19-game unbeaten run in Europe's premier competition.


The Dutch league leader has only lost once at the semifinal stage in six appearances, going down 2-1 to eventual winner Nottingham Forest in 1980. And in the 1971 final at Wembley, Ajax beat Panathinaikos 2-0. That was the Greek champion's only final appearance, and it last played in a semifinal in 1985 when it was knocked out by Liverpool.


But Rocha is not dismayed. His team played superbly to beat Legia Warsaw 3-0 in Athens to reach the last four, having gained a 0-0 result in Arctic conditions in Poland.


"We know we are facing the best team in the world but regardless of this, who knows, we may have a rendezvous with history and beat the odds," he said from Amsterdam.


Panathinaikos, which heads the Greek first division, comes into the match well rested after its scheduled game against second-place AEK Athens was called off on the weekend to allow it to prepare for its European battle.


In contrast, Ajax slipped to its third league defeat since mid-January as it lost 2-0 at Roda JC Kerkrade on Saturday -- although virtually all Ajax's first-team squad was out injured or being rested.


Most of the absentees will be back Wednesday. Midfielders Ronald de Boer and Edgar Davids, who both sat out the Roda defeat with muscle strains, will play. Finnish international Jari Litmanen is to be in the line-up after Louis van Gaal took a late decision to rest him Saturday.


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The European Football Union turned down an appeal by French champion Nantes to have a five-game suspension imposed last week on winger Reynald Pedros lifted.


The decision is a blow to Nantes' European Cup hopes as Pedros will miss the second leg of its semifinal against Juventus later this month.


Pedros will miss Wednesday's first leg because of the red card he received for kicking a Moscow Spartak player during the first leg of their European Cup quarterfinal. He will also miss the final should Nantes advance. The suspension will extend into next season.


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Ace Danish midfielder Michael Laudrup said in a Tuesday press conference he will wrap up his seven-year, trophy-filled period with Spanish soccer at the end of this season when his contract with powerhouse Real Madrid expires.


Speaking to reporters, the 31-year-old international said he was considering playing next season in the United States or Japan, but gave no further details. ()