Ajax defender Stefano Denswil insists he is not afraid of Lionel Messi ahead of his side’s clash with Barcelona tonight.
The 20-year-old is set to come face-to-face with the Argentine star when the Eredivisie champions visit Camp Nou for their opening Champions League Group H clash, but rather than be overawed by the occasion, he believes it will be a huge learning curve for him to do battle with the attacking sensation.
He told NUSport: “I’m never nervous, not even at my debut at Ajax. Of course it’s special to play in Camp Nou, but as a player you have to start the match with a relaxed feeling and not be afraid of anyone.
“He (Messi) is just an opponent and he’s not in my team. I am not going to let him score, am I? We have to fight each other and try to stop him. Barcelona will try to win the match, but so will we.”
Meanwhile, Messi conceded yesterday that Barcelona faced a tough task progressing from Group H ahead of their Champions League opener with Ajax.
Tonight’s game pits together two of European football’s most successful teams as both clubs have won the tournament — whether in its current format or previously as the European Cup — a total of four times apiece.
Lining up along with Barca and Ajax in arguably the toughest group in this season’s competition are seven-time European champions Milan and Celtic, winners in 1966-67.
Given the Spanish champions’ pedigree in the Champions League, Gerardo Martino’s men will be expected to qualify for the knockout stages, but Messi feels it is far from a guarantee.
“It’s a difficult group, but we knew that would be the case. It’s very difficult to win the Champions League — it’s already hard from the start,” he told Uefa.com.
“I think the groups are very even, very balanced, so there will be some great games. We hope to play at our best level to be able to qualify. There are top-class, historic teams in our group — big names.
Teams that we’ve faced before, so we know them a bit. Maybe not so with Ajax, but we’ve watched them. It’s an exciting group.”
Barcelona will be without Jordi Alba for their opening game after he picked up a hamstring injury in 3-2 win over Sevilla on Saturday, while Carles Puyol (knee), and Ibrahim Afellay (thigh) are unavailable.
Meanwhile, Ajax are likely to be without Siem de Jong, who has only recently recovered from a collapsed lung, but Daley Blind, Ricardo van Rhijn, Thulani Serero and Joel Veltman are all fit.