13 August 2012
Ajax, the national champion, has started the new season with a tie against AZ. The North Holland derby ended at 2-2 in the Amsterdam ArenA. After an early goal from Gregory van der Wiel, AZ forward Jody Altidore turned the score into 1-2 shortly after the break. Seven minutes before the end, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson eked out one point for Ajax from the match. Tobias Sana made his official debut for Ajax after the break.A few days after PSV’s surprising loss at RKC Waalwijk, Ajax and AZ took full advantage of the Eindhoven team’s loss of points. The meeting between the two youngest Eredivisie teams (AZ’s average age is 22,1 and Ajax’s is 22,3 years) ended with the teams splitting the points. Frank de Boer wasn’t pleased with this result, but, considering how the match went, he could accept it. “You always want to get three points in the ArenA. We could have dealt a blow to both PSV and AZ. The good thing is we pulled ourselves together after the break and showed resilience. So I can live with this tie.”
Compared to the line up which played in the Johan Cruijff Plate loss, there were four new faces on the field at kick off. De Boer had made the necessary changes in all of the lines, both in names and positions. The most notable change was that Thulani Serero took Theo Janssen’s place. In the small South African, De Boer had a tactical solution for putting pressure on midfielder Adam Mahler faster when possession was lost. On defence, Gregory van der Wiel started as left back next to Toby Alderweireld and Ricardo van Rhijn, who took the left centre position. Daley Blind moved one spot to the left, and Mitchell Dijks started on the bench. In the front line, two new names appeared on the sides: Jody Lukoki and Lasse Schone, who replaced Aras Ozbiliz and Viktor Fischer. Derk Boerrigter, Miralem Sulejmani and EC participant Christian Eriksen sat this match out, as it was still too early for them to see action.
Before the break, Ajax’s new line-up delivered almost immediately. With the offensive Van der Wiel and Blind, AZ was steadily kept on its own side. Ajax played a good, controlled game, which brought immediate success. In the ninth minute, Van der Wiel already had a clear path, which resulted directly in the opening goal. From the right flank, Van der Wiel was able to steam ahead. With a burning shot into the left upper corner, the goal seared unstoppably past AZ keeper Esteban: 1-0. Except for a shot from Jozy Altidore, the visitors didn’t give Ajax much to fend off. Five minutes before the break, Vurnon Anita had a nice opportunity to bring the score to 2-0, but Alderweireld’s neat pass wasn’t converted into a goal by the midfielder. Ajax sold itself short with that one.
The world looked very different in the second half. Within five minutes, Altidore, who had been almost invisible before the break, brought AZ into the lead, 2-1. The American singlehandedly turned the 1-0 score into 1-2. In the 48th minute, he breezed past Alderweireld and Van der Wiel, and decidedly shot the ball into the goal. Not even two minutes later, Altidore struck again. After a sharp combination with Martens, he shot into the near corner: 1-2.
The new numbers on the scoreboard ensured that, after the break, the game became one rife with opportunities. Blind, Beerens and Sigthórsson all had the chance to score a goal within ten minutes of AZ’s second one. Especially on Beerens’ shot, it was good that keeper Vermeer made a good stop, saving Ajax’s skin. The ideal opportunity for a tying goal occurred later when 23 year old substitute Tobias Sana almost crowned his official Ajax 1 debut with a goal. The Swedish wing forward saw his shot bounce back into the field after hitting the underside to the crossbar, thus ending the chance for a 2-2. Watched by former Ajax players Jan Vertonghen, Rafael van der Vaart, Demy de Zeeuw and national coach Louis van Gaal, Sana appeared in front of the goal ten minutes later. But this time, he had to showdown with keeper Esteban, who gave him a gentle tick. About Sana, De Boer said afterwards: “He brought a certain energy to the team, and he was threatening. He should have played the ball faster at times, but he was driven. Something was happening.”
The ending phase showed a stronger Ajax. With Janssen substituting for Blind and Klaassen in for Serero, Ajax saved one point from the match. On a Jody Lukoki pass, Sigthórsson shot the 2-2 in. It was the Icelander who, of course, scored against his former team. Deep into extra time, Ajax seemed poised to leave the ArenA with the full load of points, but a burning long distance shot from Janssen went into the side net. Thus, Ajax’s series of fourteen competition wins in a row was broken after six months.