Ajax’s 100th away game in the Eredivisie turned out to be a draining one. The fact that Ajax managed to win this competition match against Heracles Almelo (0-2) eased the pain and fatigue. Anwar El Ghazi and Nemanja Gudelj brought leader Ajax a well-earned win.
In the beautifully renovated Polman Stadium, Ajax closed a turbulent football episode. The hangover of their competition loss to PSV was followed up by a disappointing interland week for the Dutch internationals. The Dutch team did not qualify for the 2016 European Championships in France. Heracles coach John Stegemann said, prior to the match, that he hoped to take advantage of the Ajax internationals’ disappointment.
Heracles was not short on confidence. The home team had every reason to be proud. Heracles started the 2015-2016 with a genuine kick start. This match between Heracles and Ajax had the makings of a true competition topper. Leader Ajax met the Eredivisie’s number three team on the artificial turf in Almelo. The ‘Tukkers’ hadn’t lost a single point since moving back into their refurbished home. Heracles has won its last six home games. The player who has had an important hand in this, Oussama Tannana, was absent due to a suspension.
In Almelo, Frank de Boer placed his top scorer, Anwar El Ghazi, as centre forward. Arek Milik and Yaya Sanogo, usually the top contenders for that position, weren’t available on Saturday. Lasse Schöne was Ajax’s starting left winger. Diederik Boer replaced Jasper Cillessen. With an eye on the upcoming week of football (Thursday’s Europa League match against Fenerbahçe), the keeper was spared. Cillessen got injured during the warm-up of the Dutch national team’s qualification match against Kazakhstan. The international has recovered, but ‘cup match’ keeper Boer was still given a chance to show what he can do in this Eredivisie match.
El Ghazi supplied a shine to the match within fifteen minutes of his stint as centre forward. The international rounded off an individual play with an amazing shot into the left corner: 0-1. The Almelo team seemed poised to even the score with their visitors five minutes after the opening goal. Wout Weghorst’s spot on header was disqualified due to Ramon Zomer being offside. Ajax escaped a tying goal; referee Kevin Blom could just as easily have allowed the goal.
Nemanja Gudelj gave Ajax an even bigger lead a few minutes later. The Serb, who also missed the European Championships with his national team, scored beautifully from a far distance. Just like El Ghazi’s shot, Gudelj’s also disappeared into a corner, but this time it was the left one.
The messy and, at times, restless first half resulted in anther handful of opportunities for Ajax and Heracles. El Ghazi was in a position to decide the match in the first half. On a pass from Fischer, the centre forward, who was totally free, sent his header wide of the goal. The top match thus remained exciting.
In the second half, the tone was set by irritations, and the match deteriorated into something of a mess. It says enough that referee Blom handed out five yellow cards. The Amsterdam team kept its coolest in freezing cold Almelo. Joël Veltman was one of the most outstanding players on the field. The defender was everywhere and was in possession of the ball everywhere.
The visitors were the ones who had the most opportunities to decide the match definitively. Gudelj, after an hour, sent his free kick onto the crossbar. Schöne’s free kick, which had changed directions, met the same fate. Fischer came face to face with Bram Castro in the final minutes. The Danish Ajacied’s shot went wide.
Thus the Amsterdam team’s win really wasn’t in danger at any time. Ajax ended this draining top match with a smile. On Thursday, against Fenerbahçe, they will take another shot in the UEFA Europa League. After their first loss in their refurbished home stadium, Heracles went home with a hangover.
Score summary: 14. El Ghazi 0-1, 22. Gudelj 0-2
Line-up Ajax: Boer, Tete, Veltman, Riedewald, Dijks, Bazoer, Klaassen, Gudelj, Schöne, El Ghazi, Fischer (81. Younes)