Ajax suffered a close loss during their practice match against FC Porto. In Estadio do Dragão, the match ended with Martin Jol’s team losing 1-0.
By playing practice matches against FC Porto and Chelsea (this Friday in the Amsterdam ArenA), Ajax needs to get ready for the important two games against PAOK Saloniki in the third qualifying round for the Champions League. Despite the narrow loss, the match against Porto was a confidence builder. The only negative was Urby Emanuelson’s injury, which resulted in his substitution close to the end. The Ajax player has injured, but not broken, his foot. It’s not clear when he’ll be able to play again.
Jol made two line-up changes after the match against FC Horst. Rasmus Lindgren was back on the squad, and Jeffrey Sarpong replaced Miralem Sulejmani, who was absent in Portugal due to a hamstring injury. Daley Blind was relegated to the bench for the first time during the practice matches. Oleguer took his place at right back. Siem de Jong, who scored seven times as a forward against the Horst amateurs, was positioned on the attack once again against Porto. Says Jol: “On Wednesday, the World Cup players return, Suarez included. I hope he’s 100% fit, especially since there’s not much cover on forward. Suk isn’t ready to be on forward full time. Siem can cover as a striker, but of course would prefer to play his own position.”
After fifteen minutes, Ajax went down a goal against the 27 time Portuguese champion. The stadium was at good capacity, with Ajax invitee Pieter Huistra watching in the stands with his new team Fc Groningen. Forward Falcao came from the right and beat Vermeer, who had come out, with a ball from the back line. For James, who had kept up, it was child’s play to shoot the ball into the empty goal, 1-0. Says Vermeer about that moment: “I let the ball go on purpose, because I was completely sure that the ball was over the line. But unfortunately I can’t turn back time. We didn’t give away any more chances, which makes it even worse to lose because of a goal like that.”
Later in the first half, Martin Jol’s team had two chances to even the game. Besides a long range shot from captain Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen – playing with ‘10’- had the best opportunity. The Dane’s shot went wide of keeper Helton’s goal.
If Ajax makes it to the Champions League, they won’t meet Porto again. Last season, the cup winner ended up third in the Portuguese competition, eight points down on champion Benfica. Os Dragões will therefore not play at the highest European level this season, for the first time in years.
Ajax faced a very different Porto during the second half. The young coach André Villas-Boas (32 years old) made five changes to his team midway. During the match, the remaining players on the home team were also all substituted, so that when the last whistle blew, the team leaving the field was totally different than the one which had walked on. Apart from many substitutions (Ajax had four), the second half was uneventful. After an hour of play, Eriksen had another chance, but his shot went over.
After the fragmented preparations, Ajax will once again have the complete team at its disposal, as the last World Cup players report back to their clubs. Friday, to close the Open Day, Ajax will face their last serious test in Amsterdam, on route to their meeting with PAOK. Their meeting with Chelsea in the ArenA will act as a general rehearsal for the Champions League qualifying rounds.
Jol: “This was a good practice match for us. After the first fifteen minutes, when we went down a goal, we played well. It’s a shame that the referee allowed the goal, because the ball was over the back line.” Of course, the conversation shifted to Fulham’s alleged interest in Jol. “We are secluded here in our hotel in Portugal. I haven’t heard much. If they’re speculating in England, then the Dutch press will get wind of it too.”