Ajax has ended its 2012-2013 pre-season with a tie on Tuesday evening. Days before the Ajax Open Day, the practice match against Norwich City ended at 1-1. The duel on Carrow Road also marked the end of the training camp in England. Ajax appears to be ready for the official start of the season, which kicks off on Sunday against PSV with the stride for the Johan Cruijff Plate.
As previously announced, Frank de Boer started a completely different line-up than the one which had played against Southampton. In the southern port city, the team from Amsterdam had booked a 0-1 victory (Aras Ozbiliz scored). For the Johan Cruijff Plate match against PSV, the Ajax coach will play roughly the same line-up as the one which started in Southampton. The match in Norwich thus took on the feeling of being a last test. In the last match of the pre-season, several Ajax players received the opportunity to earn a definitive spot in the A-selection.
In Norwich, De Boer called on a youthful Ajax. Christian Eriksen and captain for the occasion Gregory van der Wiel were the regulars with the reigning champion. Both EC participants played their first Ajax 1 minutes in Norwich. The internationals were the last to re-join the selection. After the EC in Poland and the Ukraine, Van der Wiel and Eriksen were able to enjoy their holidays for a little while longer than their teammates who had ended the ’11-’12 championship year with their club.
This meeting with the Premier League’s biggest surprise of last season was a good opportunity to observe the potential of the newest Ajax talent. The Canaries, who incidentally were clad in black to play against Ajax, played a typically English game: very physical, and keen on the (very quick) counter. The Canaries went ahead after seven minutes as a result. The English earned a free kick after a communication glitch between Joel Veltman and keeper Jasper Cillessen. Via the Ajax wall, midfielder Anthony Pilkington put the ball past Cillessen: 1-0.
The Ajax players then went on to play their own football. With Eriksen as the most dangerous player (the Dane sent a shot onto the crossbar, among others), it was the guests who took most of the initiatives. Although they were constantly on guard for any counters from the Canaries. Lasse Schone was another Dane in Frank de Boer’s team who stood out. The midfielder started off in the ‘Anita role’, as a controller at the middle line. The new Ajax player set himself up as a defender, but also made offensive contributions. With a fantastic long distance shot, into the upper corner, Schone personally ensured the 1-1 tie after half an hour.
Ajax continued on the right track after the break. Eriksen and Van der Wiel had already relinquished their spots to Vurnon Anita and Ruben Ligeon. Anita thus took over the ‘Anita role’ once again from Schone. The Danish acquisition continued as right midfielder. After the break, Anita was Ajax’s new captain (Siem de Jong was on the bench at the time). Midway through the second half, De Jong came in for Anita. The two steady pillars thus added more playing minutes to their balances.
The 26.000 spectators at Carrow Road provided a complete contrast with the lukewarm atmosphere of last Saturday’s match in St. Mary’s Stadium. A paltry 5.000 spectators attended the match in Southampton. The Amsterdam team’s playing against The Saints was also different than what they served up at Carrow Road. On Saturday, Ajax had been sloppy at times. But against Norwich City, their edge had returned. Ajax even had the opportunity to win its practice match in the last minutes. De Jong’s header went just wide. Left back Dico Koppers had provided the excellent pass.
Ajax ended its pre-season exactly as you might expect, on the eve of the new season’s official start. On Sunday, the 31 time national champion opens its football year with the top match against PSV for the Johan Cruijff Plate. Frank de Boer’s selection seems ready for the start.