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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spartak Looks to Finish Off Ajax




Spartak Moscow has some injury worries on defense but hardly enough to cheer Ajax Amsterdam, which must overcome not just a 3-1 deficit Tuesday but Russia's winter snows if it is to reach the UEFA Cup semifinals.


The fixture was thrown into doubt when the biggest blizzard of the winter hit Moscow last week, burying the pitch at Dynamo Stadium, where Russia and Italy battled out a dour 1-1 draw in a snowstorm in October during the World Cup playoffs. That result kept Russia out of this summer's World Cup.


The snow, however, has been cleared and the pitch sanded, and the undersoil heating is working overtime.


But with temperatures set to be slightly below freezing, Ajax can scarcely hope for a surface on which to display its skills, even if Finnish striker Jari Litmanen makes a long-awaited comeback.


"It is a large sand pit. It should be to the benefit of the defending side, but we must overcome that," said Ajax coach Morten Olsen, whose side lost the home leg 3-1 two weeks ago.


"We'll do our best to keep the field in decent condition," Dynamo Stadium director Oleg Tochelovich said Monday. "But it won't be perfect."


Spartak, which has never gone beyond the semifinal stage in Europe and was crushed by its failure to qualify for the Champions' League last season, has high hopes of starting off a memorable week for former Soviet clubs after stunning Ajax in Amsterdam.


Spartak's old rival Dynamo Kiev faces Juventus in Ukraine on Wednesday with the score at 1-1 in a European Cup quarterfinal and neighboring Lokomotiv Moscow hosts AEK Athens on Thursday with the tie still scoreless in their Cup Winners' Cup quarterfinal.


Many Russian fans, deprived of World Cup final participation for the first time in 20 years, bemoan the passing of a golden age of Soviet soccer.


Spartak's main worries -- as usual in its checkered European career of the 1990s -- lie on defense, with veteran fullback and fearsome tackler Sergei Gorlukovich suspended and Dmitry Khlestov and Dmitry Ananko both hurting.


Both should start but Khlestov needs a strap on a shoulder injury sustained in a pre-domestic season friendly last week and Ananko is recovering from a pulled thigh muscle.


Ajax, needing to score at least three times to win, could be bolstered by the full return of striker Jari Litmanen, who has been out due to injury since December. He played 25 minutes in Ajax's 6-1 thrashing of bottom club Volendam on Saturday.


But there are doubts over Nigerian Tijani Babangida's knee and Richard Witschge's hamstring.