Ajax are out of all European competitions. After losing 2-1 to Club Brugge in Belgium on Tuesday evening and with Celta de Vigo winning in Milan, Ajax were fourth in their UEFA Champions League group. Ronald Koeman and his young squad will now have to focus on the Dutch championship, the only way to return to the highest Europen level next season.
Of all the players to miss, Tomás Galásek was the one Ajax could afford to lose the least. The Czech midfielder does the dirty work when playing alongside thoroughbreads Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder, and he is one of the older and more experienced players in the side. Yet, Galásek had to pull out with an injury, leaving Koeman no choice but to field the youngest squad ever to start a Champions League match.
With a teenager in every line, Ajax started nervously, as the home side put them under pressure from the beginning. Also because the pitch was hard because of the cold, the talented Ajax youngsters were unable to play their favourite passing game, instead opting too often for the long ball. Despite the shaky start, Ajax did get some chances, most notably through Mitea and Van der Vaart, but it was Club Brugge who scored first. Lange headed in a ball that Lobont could have stopped if he were closer to his own goal: 1-0.
Ajax seemed lost, unable to get a grip on the strong opponent. But a handball by a Brugge defender minutes before halftime put Ajax back into the saddle. Wesley Sonck remained very calm from the penalty spot: 1-1.
Ajax had a better start of the second half, although Brugge were always dangerous. After an hour, Ajax seemed to realise there was more to win than just a draw and with the score in Milan going Celta´s way, the visitors strung together a series of good opportunities, the greatest coming in the 69th minute when striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed from close range.
Ibrahimovic was taken off shortly after and Jari Litmanen came on for added support in midfield. But then it all went sour. Litmanen´s long-distance shot was blocked and in the resulting counter attack Saeternes scored and gave the home side the lead back. Despite Ajax creating some danger, Brugge would not let the win slip away again.
With the victory in Milan, Celta de Vigo are through to the next round in the UEFA Champions League. The third place in the group allows Brugge to finish the season in the UEFA Cup. Numbers 4 Ajax are left with nothing. Now Koeman´s team has to focus on the domestic title.