In a match of extremes, Ajax squandered valuable points at AZ. The Amsterdam team played a weak first half and could count itself lucky to be down by only 1-0 at halftime. Ajax recovered after the break and seemed poised to leave Alkmaar with three points following goals by Bertrand Traoré and Davy Klaassen. But, out of the blue, and completely in contrast to the relative strength of each team on the field, AZ tied the game thanks to Wout Weghorst’s second goal.
With this draw, Ajax failed to capitalize on PSV’s loss of points. The national champion couldn’t do better than a 1-1 draw against FC Twente. The lead thus remains two points in the Amsterdam team’s favour. If leader Feyenoord would defeat Go Ahead Eagles, their lead on Ajax would increase to five points.
Ajax had travelled to Alkmaar feeling good. The Ajacieds had posted an outstanding win against Celta de Vigo on Thursday evening, and thanks to this 3-2 win, had earned a spot in the European tournament after the winter break. Compared to three days earlier, Peter Bosz had made one change. Nick Viergever had recovered from foot injury and took over his spot at central defense from Jairo Riedewald.
AZ has had a more challenging time in the Europa League, as well as in competition. But John van den Brom’s team seemed to be gaining momentum, which they proved in the first half of the game against Ajax.
The home team was firmly in charge for the first 45 minutes. Ajax could consider itself lucky to only be down by 1-0 at halftime. AZ neutralized several great opportunities and saw their opponent create real danger only once. A long distance shot by Hakim Ziyech was plucked out of the upper corner by AZ keeper Sergio Rochet.
In contrast, AZ had a series of great opportunities. In the fifth minute, Ajax escaped a goal against when Joël Veltman barely played a ball back via the post. Andre Onana had to act quickly twice, first when Robert Mühren, and then Ridgeciano Haps appeared in front of him completely free. In the meantime, Weghorst had opened the score. The tall striker received the ball off of Veltman’s leg and outwitted Onana: 1-0.
During the halftime break, AZ was probably wondering why they were only one goal ahead. At the same time, Ajax saw hope to fight its way back into the match, and that is just what they did. A big boost was Traoré’s quick and stunning tying goal. The forward from Burkina Faso was freed up by Amin Younes and he curved the ball beautifully into the far corner: 1-1.
That goal brought confidence, and Ajax visibly started played better. It was no longer AZ, but Ajax, who had the reins in their hands, with Younes as the initiator. The German came close to scoring the 1-2 goal in the 57th minute, but his shot went wide of the AZ goal. But the goal came later with a contribution from Younes. The German was put to work by Lasse Schöne and stumbled on Rochet twice. In the subsequent shuffle, Klaassen was alert (1-2). The third time was the charm for Ajax.
Unexpected tying goal
It was Younes’ last dangerous move, as during his efforts, he sustained an injury. Mateo Cassierra came in for him. Ajax no longer had anything to fear from AZ, but still, with twelve minutes to go, the score became 2-2. A swift breakout was sent into the goal near the second post by Weghorst.
In the final minutes the game went back and forth, but despite a few tense situations in front of both goals, no more were scored.