Ajax’s passion unrewarded

Ajax’s passion unrewarded

On Wednesday evening, Ajax didn’t manage to upset FC Barcelona at home like they did last year. Despite a huge dose of passion and fighting spirit, Ajax drew the short end of the stick. Lionel Messi was the Catalan team’s hero again by scoring both goals, one in each half.

The fans in the completely sold-out Amsterdam ArenA were simmering with excitement on Wednesday evening. Would Ajax be able to upset their opponent like in last year’s Ajax-FC Barcelona match – the first official match between the teams to be played in Amsterdam -which ended in a 2-1 score? Only three spots were different compared to last year’s team. Last year Daley Blind, Viktor Fischer and Danny Hoesen were on the squad, and now they were replaced by Lucas Andersen, Anwar El Ghazi and Kolbeinn Sigthórsson.

It was exactly the opposite at FC Barcelona. Only three players from back then were on the field now: Mascherano, Xavi Hernandez and Neymar. At the time, the then-injured Lionel Messi was absent. This time, he was on the starting team with Luis Suarez at his side. The former Ajax player made his comeback after a long suspension due to his World Cup biting incident. The fact that his return to European football was in Amsterdam, where he played from 2007 to 2011, made it even more special for him.

Beforehand, De Boer had called on his players to play their ‘best game ever’, and all eleven of them tried to do that. With Serero at midfield and El Ghazi and Lucas Andersen as the new young guys, Ajax gave Barcelona a tough time at the start. The home team forced Barcelona to play long balls, something the Catalan team hardly ever does. This resulted in a very tense first half, with a small opportunity around the twentieth minute, but Van Rijn (shot stopped) and Anwar El Ghazi (narrow miss) and Davy Klaassen (save by keeper Ter Stegen) were unable to score the opening goal.

Neymar had sent the ball against the ropes behind Jasper Cillessen in the fifth minute but referee Proença had disqualified the goal due to offside. Barcelona wanted to make up for its second Primera Division loss with a good result, but was hindered by a strong Ajax, whose defenders fought like lions, whose forwards and midfielders showed daring and sought their way forward with courage and passion. But it was Messi, in the 35th minute, who came close to scoring the opening goal, but Jasper Cillessen stood in his way by working the ball out of the corner.

Not even one minute later, the keeper lost a duel against Marc Bartra in the corner of his penalty kick area. The Barcelona player then passed to the front and Messi sent a header in past Van Rhijn, 0-1. It was Messi’s seventieth (!) Champions League goal for Barcelona. The 0-1 score remained unchanged for the remainder of the first half. Leaving the field, the six referees were extensively jeered, the fans showing their displeasure with the Portuguese referee.

Ajax had fifteen minutes to pep themselves up for the second half. But Barcelona came out of the locker room differently than in the first half. The team understood that they would have to work if they wanted to win in Amsterdam and lifted their game up several notches. Suarez had the 2-0 at his feet in the 59th minute when he headed towards Cillessen alone. But the Ajax keeper kept the former Ajax player from scoring. Arek Milik, in for Sigthórsson, almost scored the tying goal in the 69th minute, when he shot a pass from Serero onto the post.

Shortly after that, Ajax was dealt another blow. Joël Veltman was forced to leave the field after his second yellow card. A deja-vu for the defender, as he had also been forced to leave the field early last season with a red card. Down to ten men, Ajax was forced to face the impossible task of posting a good result at home. When Boilesen lost the ball at midfield in the 76th minute, Pedro made a pass to Messi, who scored his second goal of the evening, and all hope of success evaporated. Barcelona had a few more opportunities, but Rakitic and Messi didn’t manage to score again.

Thus Ajax lost its second match in the pool, and because PSG defeated Apoel 1-0, Frank de Boer’s team is disqualified from the Champions League. The Amsterdam team is in third place in the pool with a one point lead on Apoel Nicosia. The next match is on November 25 in Paris, and on December 10, a spot in the Europa League will be contested in the Amsterdam ArenA.