Ajax defeated Willem II, 2-0, on Wednesday evening. Thanks to the win, Ajax is now only one point behind leader FC Twente with only a few matches left in the regular competition. With two games to go, the battle for the championship is heating up.
One day after leader FC Twente lost at AZ, Ajax’s task was simple: to win. A victory over Willem II was the only way to take full advantage of Twente’s loss. The difference between the two top ranked teams, with only two rounds left, has been reduced to one point. “This is a catch up race like we’ve never seen before”, said Ajax coach Martin Jol of the steady build-up during the last weeks.
The night began well for Ajax in Tilburg. After just two and a half minutes, referee Van Boekel awarded a penalty shot to Luis Suarez, after an infraction by Willem II defender Schenkel. The penalty kick was a piece of cake for Suarez, who scored his 33rd competition goal. The captain sprinted to the visitors stands afterwards, to celebrate the goal with the fans, who instantly forgot the long traffic jams they endured on their way to Tilburg.
Eyong Enoh returned from his suspension for the match against Willem II, relegating Gabri, who had replaced him during his absence, to the bench. Urby Emanuelson, who scored on Sunday, was out due to ankle pains. Partly due to this, Jol gave winger Rommendahl a spot on the squad. With the Dane on right flank, Ajax had a battery of chances during the first half. But the precision, finesse, or perhaps simple decisiveness was missing every time. Willem II answered with a hustle from Demouge and a header from Schenkel, but Stekelenburg wasn’t fazed either time.
But since the lead at halftime was narrow, Willem II, with loaned out Ajax players Jan-Arie van der Heijden and Mitchell Donald, wasn’t beaten yet. Even though the number 17 ranked team had lost its last four matches, the score at halftime still allowed the Tricolores some hope, despite
Heijden and Mitchell Donald, wasn’t beaten yet. Even though the number 17 ranked team had lost
But since the lead at halftime was narrow, Willem II, with loaned out Ajax players Jan-Arie van der
Ajax’s clear superiority.
After an hour of play, Marko Pantelic assured Ajax’s twelfth competition win in a row. The Serbian player, who until then hadn’t had luck on his side, received a perfect pass from Rommendahl, and the forward brought the score to 2-0. “It’s not as easy as you’d think”, was Jol’s reaction to the second late goal. “This kind of away match isn’t always easy to win, although it’s true that Willem II didn’t have much of a chance to beat us”, continued the coach, who admitted to watching AZ-Twente on Tuesday with a dose of ‘healthy, but sometimes too much, nervous excitement’. The score didn’t change during the last half hour, leaving Ajax to aim for the magic frontier of one hundred goals (after Willem II, the count stands at 98) on Sunday’s home match against Heracles Almelo.
The impressive number of goals is just a side track of the intensely exciting championship race. The season’s finale will be a thriller. The last two matches, with Ajax facing the Cup final against Feyenoord in between, FC Twente must win both times (at home against Feyenoord, and away at NAC) to keep Ajax at bay. A false move can be fatal. Ajax, of course, must also win twice in this scenario; Sunday at home against Heracles, and May 2 away at NEC. Thanks in part of the ‘bonus point’ thanks to their higher goal count, Ajax can legitimately hope for their first national championship since 2004. A championship which, just like in 2002, would be played out at NEC Nijmegen.
“I hope we get the championship”, was Jol’s answer to the questions about Ajax’s strong title chances. “I think Twente may still gamble some points away. Just as I think PSV will also let points go.”