Ajax A1 lost the NextGen Series final against Internazionale on Sunday. In a thrilling match, the Italian powerhouse won on penalty kicks, after the game remained tied (1-1) after regular time and extra time.
The youthful Ajax team played with pluck and gusto. The Internazionale players left them to it and sat back waiting. In the duel’s beginning phase, things were going well for A1. Within fifteen minutes, Grim and De Boer’s team had a great opportunity via Viktor Fischer. The Danish player’s hard free kick went just over the goal. He had another opportunity later on. But Fischer, with just one man in front of him, didn’t kick the ball properly and his soft shot unexpectedly ended up with Fabian Sporkslede. Sporkslede reacted quickly, but shot too high over the goal.
A1 got several opportunities, and Davy Klaassen had the best one. The captain made a beautiful overhead kick right in front of Inter’s goal, but his shot, amazingly enough, hit the inside of the post. Keeper Raffaele DiGennaro’s dive put a stop to the attack. Mats Rits had the chance to put his team in the lead just before the first half ended, but his shot, on a good pass from Lesley de Sa, went wide.
Right as it seemed inevitable that both teams would retreat to the locker rooms at halftime with a 0-0 score, a goal was scored. Not Ajax, but Inter made it 1-0. Via the feared counter, Samuele Longo ticked the ball over Mickey van der Hart in the 45th minute. Despite playing better and having created the best opportunities, Ajax A1 was down a goal.
But, as Mitchell Dijks said on Saturday on Ajax.nl: “If we get behind, we can’t hang our heads. We just need to be patient.” Ajax’s A-juniors didn’t need to be that patient, as it turned out. Soon after the second half started, the tying goal came in a formidable fashion. A free kick by Stefano Denswil was shot with elegance and flair into the upper corner. If there was such a thing as the ‘most beautiful goal of the NextGen Series’, Denswil’s goal would get top marks.
The tying goal was a nice boost. Ajax A1 kept seeking solutions, and Inter clearly struggled with this. Twenty minutes before the end of regular time, they were down to ten men. Referee Lee Collins rightfully gave a red card to Ibrahima Mbaye for a gross tackle on Joël Veltman. In the closing phase of the match, Klaassen had another great opportunity for A1, but his shot hit the crossbar. Neither team would score again in regular time, which meant overtime.
Inter started extra time well with a shot against the crossbar. Denswil also hit the post in the match’s second overtime, just like Longo. Five minutes away from penalty kicks, Nick de Bondt scored 2-1 but his goal was disqualified due to offside. Ajax A1 got one last chance in overtime’s extra time, via Abdelmalek El Hasnaoui, whose hard shot ended up in the Inter goalie’s hands.
The scoreless overtime led to penalty kicks. Denswil scored the first Ajax penalty. Klaassen also coolly put his shot behind De Gennaro. Veltman was the third Ajax player to take a penalty, but his shot was stopped. After Inter made good on all of their penalties, the Amsterdam team couldn’t catch up anymore. A1 fought for 120 minutes, but went down fighting on penalty kicks.
“Of course, I’m disappointed”, said coach Fred Grim afterwards. “It was a great tournament and we played some very good matches. If you reach the finals, you want to win. We played well, but unfortunately not well enough to beat the Italians. I can honestly say that no other team did better than us. We played some great football in the NextGen Series.” Next year, Ajax A1 can get its revenge. With both great football, and a prize.
Line-up Ajax A1: Mickey van der Hart, Sven Nieuwpoort, Joël Veltman, Stefano Denswil, Mitchell Dijks, Fabian Sporkslede, Davy Klaassen (c), Mats Rits (105. El Hasnaoui), Lesley de Sa (75. Nick de Bondt), Rowendey Schoop (58. Gravenbergh), Viktor Fischer.