Ajax rallies late in chilly dress rehearsal

Ajax rallies late in chilly dress rehearsal

Ajax – Independiente was the last practice match of the 2011-2012 season preparations. The Ajax players had no trouble with the disappointing Argentinian team. Based on their play and goals in the second half, the team from Amsterdam appears to be ready for the upcoming season.

Ajax started well in this last practice match before the battle for the Johan Cruijff Plate; the first official match of 2011-12. Christian Eriksen took full advantage of keeper Diego Rodriquez’s mistake. The Argentine goalie went to the right and slid, and a second later, Eriksen ticked the ball into the empty goal: 1-0.

Although Eriksen’s opening goal came easily, it proved difficult to add to it during the first half. This wasn’t due to Independiente’s stamina. Ajax defended well and mastered the first half in front of 19.449 fans at home in the Amsterdam ArenA. Theo Janssen played a key role. The controlling midfielder made passes to his heart’s content; he sent them a meter away, but sent them just as easily halfway down the field. The summer rain was cause enough for the match to be played under a closed ArenA roof. The chilly temperatures lent the practice match a definite autumnal feel.

Despite the meagre resistance they met, Janssen and Ajax seem ready for the first official match of the season coming up on Saturday. National champion Ajax and cup winner FC Twente will meet at 8p.m. in the ArenA to play for the Johan Cruijff Plate, the first prize of the 2011-2012 season. Ajax lost the former Supercup last season to FC Twente. But everything changed on May 15 2011 (the Ajax – FC Twente championship match). The champions missed many opportunities during their first home match since the memorable championship. Nicolai Boilesen (side net), Lorenzo Ebecilio (side net) and a stream of other Ajax players missed good opportunities.
It wasn’t due to the interactions on the field, according to the statistics shown on the Sony screens in the stadium. This new service offered to supporters in the ArenA – statistical information in various shapes and forms - showed at one point that Ajax had significantly more possession (59 per cent) than Independiente (41 per cent). The home team was, clearly, much stronger. But it had difficulty translating that difference into goals.

Maarten Stekelenburg kept a cool head during the few moments that Independiente reached him. The keeper was in the Ajax goal for one half. Coach Frank de Boer had announced beforehand that Kenneth Vermeer would step in for the second half. As rumours of a potential transfer circulate, this could have been ‘Steek’s’ last performance as an Ajax player.
After the break, Ajax appeared much sharper in finishing. With half of the team substituted, Aras Özbiliz scored a hat trick. Replacing the invisible Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, he scored three times in the first seven minutes of the second half. Özbiliz’s second goal was fantastic. After a chip from fellow substitute Thulani Serero, the attacker rounded off well with a subtle arc over Rodriguez.

Referee Richard Liesveld punished a foul on Lorenzo Ebecilio with a penalty kick, even though the foul was committed outside the box. Janssen took the penalty on Ajax’s behalf. Despite encouraging applause from the F-side, the former Tukker saw his attempt blocked by Rodriquez. The goalie made up somewhat for his earlier blunder.

Shortly after substitute Martin Benitez had rescued the Argentine honour (4-1), Ebecilio crowned his performance with a goal. The left back saw his shot change direction: 5-1. It remains to be seen if this win really pays off next week, in the battle for the Johan Cruijff Plate against Fc Twente.