Leading up to the Champions League match against FC Barcelona, Ajax played to a tie against FC Twente. The lively duel was decidedly two-faced. A 1-1 draw was the logical result. Ajax fell behind but in the second half, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson brought the Ajax fans that had travelled in large numbers, to their feet.
Ajax started again on Saturday after a tumultuous interland period. Ajax players returned from all corners in varying degrees of jubilation. Arek Milik returned full of self-confidence after his important goals for Poland (against Germany and Scotland) in the European Championship qualifying round. The same went for Kolbeinn Sigthórsson; with Iceland, he defeated Guus Hiddink’s Dutch team, which included Ajax players Jasper Cillessen, Davy Klaassen and Joël Veltman. The Dutch players, on the other hand, returned in a somewhat less jubilant mood after ten days on the road with the Dutch team.
The European Championship qualifications week had clearly taken its toll on the Ajax line-up. Compared to the last match against PEC Zwolle (0-0), De Boer was forced to make some changes, mainly due to the missing, injured, Nicolai Boilesen. Boilesen sustained a severe concussion last week in Denmark’s qualification match against Portugal. On Sunday, after several neurological tests, it will become clear whether the left back will be able to travel to Barcelona for the UEFA Champions League match or not. Ajax will cross swords on Tuesday evening against the Catalonian powerhouse.
The spot vacated by Boilesen was accorded to Nick Viergever in the Grolsch Veste. Compared to the home game against PEC, Lucas Andersen played at left midfield this time. Thulani Serero did the honours as controlling midfielder. Ricardo Kishna started at left back. Just like Ajax, Twente had gone into the interland period with a loss of points. The Tukkers – the only undefeated team in Eredivisie play so far - didn’t get past a 2-2 draw against AZ. Second placed Ajax and fourth-placed Twente faced each other. Twente coach Alfred Schreuder didn’t face such a big puzzle with his squad: only left winger Ryo Miyaichi was a new face on the starting line-up.
At referee Pol van Boekel’s first whistle, it was clear that only a victory would put Ajax and Twente fully in contention to catch leader PSV. The Eindhoven team had defeated AZ earlier in the evening, 3-0. The Twente team started off their assignment on the right foot. Via Jesús Corona, Twente took the lead after twenty minutes. The right winger was sent in deep, shook off the last Ajax man standing in his way, Thulani Serero, and Corona curved the ball past Cillessen: 1-0. Schreuder’s team thus plucked the fruit of their labour. TheTukkers were very directive in the first half of this match. Ajax only escaped a bigger deficit thanks to Cillessen’s save on attempts from Luc Castaignos and Miyaishi. Niklas Moisander blocked an attempt from midfielder Hakim Ziyech shortly before the break.
The only Ajax player who managed to do something in return was centre forward Sigthórsson. Twente goalie Nick Marsman kept the Icelander from scoring. The Ajax players only managed to make their way through the Twente defense sporadically. After the break, the match turned. And that was to the visitors’ advantage. Ajax reaped the fruits of its own labour in the second half, based on more daring and pure playing. This was sufficient to keep Twente far from the Amsterdam goal. Before halftime, it was Cillessen who was forced to be on high alert; in the second half, it was Marsman. Schöne made an impact with a shot onto the crossbar. The multifunctional Dane had also sent a long shot just prior. Davy Klaassen was unlucky as well in finishing. The midfielder sent an attempt onto the post after a great pass from Andersen. This attempt proved to be the prelude to a well-deserved goal. Twenty minutes before time, left winger Ricardo Kishna served his team mate Sigthórsson with a beautiful cross-pass, and he came face to face with Marsman. The centre-forward rounded off flawlessly: 1-1.
With his goal, Sigthórsson had made his latest contribution. Just like team mate and assist maker Kishna, the Icelander was also substituted. Anwar El Ghazi and Milik were the fresh Ajax reinforcements. A bit later, it was Serero who – after making a great impression in the Grolsch Veste – was replaced by Niki Zimling. The messy closing minutes didn’t result in much excitement. The competition match ended as it had started: without a winner. Although leader PSV took a two point lead on Ajax. The Brabant team was thus in third place.