Ajax scraped past Excelsior at the last minute on Sunday. Anwar El Ghazi scored the only goal of the afternoon seven minutes before the end: 1-0. Ajax thus keeps its stronghold on second place.
Just like earlier this season in Woudstein, goals against Excelsior appeared to be very dear. Ajax didn’t give much away, had ample possession, but created barely any danger in front of the visitors’ goal. The match in the full ArenA was, in terms of the goals, almost a copy of the match in Rotterdam (0-2). Just like the match at the end of December, it took until the 83rd minute before Ajax was able to make a difference in this one, eleven weeks later.
The match winner at the time, Mike van der Hoorn, watched on from the substitutes’ bench as Anwar El Ghazi did the honours this time. On a pass from substitute Richairo Zivkovic, the forward sent the 1-0 goal in on a header. With that, he avoided that Ajax – Excelsior end in a historic tie. In 2007, the Rotterdam team left Amsterdam with one point. Thanks to El Ghazi, who is now co-top scorer with Arek Milik (9 goals), there were no more draws.
Despite a difficult win, Frank de Boer was relatively pleased: “Compared to the away game against Excelsior, we played attentively. We had Excelsior by the throat for almost 90 minutes. But in football it’s all about threatening, creating opportunities and scoring goals. Excelsior played well, and we weren’t in a position to deal them the final blow. That was a shame for the spectators.”
Lasse Schöne replaced the injured Arek Milik (hamstring) at centre forward. Frank de Boer otherwise kept the line-up from last weekend’s win in Eindhoven against PSV and the double win against Legia Warsaw intact. New father Niklas Moisander was forced to miss the match against Excelsior because his girlfriend unexpectedly had to do to the hospital on Sunday morning. The Finn received permission from Ajax to be with her and thus was not on the line-up sheet.
Under the watchful gaze of Stefano Denswil (who had his official farewell before the match) and Clarence Seedorf, it was very calm in front of both goals before halftime. There wasn’t a single noteworthy opportunity – in fact, there wasn’t even a single shot fired onto Excelsior’s goal. A long-distance shot from Ricardo van Rhijn, playing his one hundredth Eredivisie match, went wide and a pass by captain Nicolai Boilesen to Anwar El Ghazi (intercepted by Excelsior’s keeper) were the few occasions during which the big screens got a second glance. Moreover, fans on the second ring of the east side were enjoying the spring sun that shone through the open roof.
Excelsior, with Bas Kuipers loaned out from Ajax among its players, put on a brave face in the ArenA. The Kralingen team has been doing well this season, and after three quarters of the competition season, they are well above the danger zone. They continued in the same vein in this match. In addition to that, they are in the KNVB Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1978. The cup match against FC Groningen next month will surely be a new highlight in club history.
At the start of the second half, Excelsior was knocking on Ajax’s door. Daan Bovenberg received the ball at his feet after a free kick, after which his shot, via Jasper Cillessen, the crossbar and Davy Klaassen was saved on the goal line. After a bit over an hour, Ajax made its first reply via Nick Viergever. The defender had a great opportunity from about six meters out. Viergever’s shot was fast and hard, but was turned away by Excelsior keeper Alessandro Damen. After that, things remained quiet for quite some time in front of each goal.
Viergever also received the only yellow card of the match. As he already had one, he will have to miss next week’s match at sc Heerenveen.
Daley Sinkgraven and Richairo Zivkovic were Ajax’s fresh blood in the last half hour. But even they couldn’t help when the match deteriorated once again. A scoreless afternoon seemed inevitable. Until El Ghazi broke the stalemate. With his sharp header he ensured that Ajax remained firmly planted in second place. Moreover, Ajax remained in good shape in preparation for the first match against Dnipro Dnipropetrovskt in the UEFA Europa League.