Ajax took a big step towards securing its 31st national title on Sunday, after defeating FC Twente 1-2. The title is, in theory (and based on goal balance) already Ajax’s. This week, Ajax must finalize its assignment during a mid-week duel against VVV-Venlo.
Of course, the big question on everyone’s mind all afternoon in the Grolsche Veste was: would the 31st national title be celebrated on Sunday? Or would the Ajax party be postponed until after the home game against VVV-Venlo or the away game against Vitesse? If Ajax won and Feyenoord – AZ ended in a tie, then Ajax’s mission would have be successful.
It would be an understatement to say that there was some tension in the air in Enschede around this championship match. The Ajax players and fans, especially the 1000 in the fully booked visitors’ stands, had full on, authentic championship fever. The championship trophy, shiny under the stadium lights, was ready to be awarded to the Eredivisie’s latest champion.
As league leader Ajax was naturally focussed on the big prize, Twente’s main goal was to not lose any territory in the stride for second place. The Twente natives are fighting for a spot in the Champions League qualifying rounds. All in all, FC Twente – Ajax was, with the finish in sight, a thrilling, captivating football battle. Ajax took the 1-0 lead 30 minutes into this battle. It was Theo Janssen who made good on a penalty, after Twente keeper Nicolay Mihaylov hauled Gregory van der Wiel down into the grass.
The earlier balance between Twente and Ajax – which had been made shaky by tension and excitement – experienced a breakthrough when the 0-1 goal was scored. It was the man who, just last season, was wearing Twente’s colours, who was responsible. Theo Janssen wasn’t fazed by the heckling and whistling from the stands as he took his shot from twelve yards out.
“We didn’t stop playing football”, said Frank de Boer afterwards, satisfied with the performance in De Grolsche Veste. “You know that it can be a tough afternoon. We were sharp from the start and continued to play well.”
In addition to Janssen, De Boer chose for ten more trusted names in his line-up to face the ‘Tukkers’. After home games against De Graafschap and FC Groningen, the coach didn’t make any changes to his starting eleven. Ajax played in next season’s new away shirt. The golden championship badge, that Ajax, as reigning champion, wore, was poised on next season’s jersey for good measure. A nice look ahead.
These are special times for De Boer as well, of course. After winning the 2011 championship (the ‘third star championship’), the Ajax man can, statistically, already be crowned as Louis van Gaal’s successor. In 1995, under van Gaal (and with De Boer playing), Ajax managed for the last time to prolong its national title. At 3.16p.m., at van Liesveld’s halftime signal, Ajax was already the virtual champion of 2011-2012. The Amsterdam team’s lead, and the auspicious halfway score between Feyenoord and AZ (0-0,) ensured this.
After the break, it became clear that Ajax would need to postpone its championship celebration until at least Wednesday. Leroy Fer’s tying goal (shot in the 72nd minute) was the main cause. Otman Bakkal’s 1-0 goal for Feyenoord against AZ didn’t work in Ajax’s favour, either. Van der Wiel’s 1-2 brought Ajax back on track for the title. Ajax was just one AZ goal away from a celebration. The Ajax supporters in the visitors’ stand were already celebrating. In the closing minutes the ’11-12’ season’s next to last away game, the fans sent hundreds of paper championship trophies into the air.
De Boer: “I’m proud that we won here. We played good football. Afterwards, the players and staff were relieved. I’d love to shout it out from the rooftops now, but we’ll only be able to seal the deal on Wednesday: with the trophy in our hands. We need to give a top performance on Wednesday. It’s also nicest for the supporters for us to win the trophy in our own stadium.”
Despite the twelfth consecutive Ajax victory, captain Jan Vertonghen was still unable to hoist the real trophy in De Grolsche Veste. Wednesday will be the day on which Ajax will add its 31st championship to its books. If Ajax has at least a tie against VVV-Venlo, all Ajax fans will be able to celebrate at the ArenAPark.