Manager Frank de Boer called the final four matches of the 2010 – 2011 Eredivisie the ‘four finals’. When visiting NEC, Ajax had a difficult afternoon. Despite the feeble start, Ajax did operate extremely effectively with two goals and the resulting 1-2 victory. The race for the championship remains an exciting one.
During the first ‘final’ the Amsterdam squad got off to a bad start. The first twenty minutes Ajax appeared unfocussed. They didn’t give the impression that the duel in Nijmegen was an important one. Lasse Schöne gave the home squad a dream start by scoring hard and fast, after only four minutes of play: 1-0. The Dane took advantage of a crossing pass by winger Leroy George. Top scorer Björn Vleminckx came close to a second goal for NEC ten minutes later. After a flash attack the Belgian turned up free, in front of Kenneth Vermeer, but he was outwitted by the Ajax keeper, which was surprising, as he has been a crack shot this season. After 31 rounds in the league, Vleminckx is still Holland’s top scorer. So far NEC’s number 18, who will be playing for Club Brugge next season, has scored nineteen times. Earlier this season Ajax – NEC ended in a draw: 1 all.
,,We began dramatically, we simply weren’t focussed in the opening stage’’, De Boer reflected. He lacked all understanding for the poor start to the game that Ajax made in Nijmegen. ,,It was typical, the NEC players got to the ball one step quicker every time. NEC was sharper. In the end we should have been more than grateful to our opponents that the score was ‘a mere’ 1 all at half time. Kenneth was our saviour at that moment, particularly after the duel with Vleminckx.’’
During the first half the team from Nijmegen sensed without a doubt that they had the chance to pull a stunt, but that they would have to cash in on their opportunities soon. George, mainly operating on the right, moved to the left this time and almost defeated Vermeer with a high ball. The Ajax keeper only just managed to hit the ball onto the post. Ajax appeared shaken and was likely to crack under the pressure in the first half hour. The Amsterdam players bowed deeply every now and again before half time, but they didn’t crack.
Precisely in the first minute of extra time Ajax retaliated. Against the odds Miralem Sulejmani calmly kicked the ball past goalie Jasper Cillessen. NEC had the most opportunities during the first half, Ajax had hardly any, but did operate icily effectively.
,,The players were relieved the score was only one all at half time, as well ’’, De Boer continued. ,,I did raise my voice, but I was also pleased that we weren’t trailing. Luckily Sulejmani made the difference for us, just before half time. In the second half, I am glad to say, we showed the crowd a completely different Ajax. Then we did manage to use the space NEC left for us.’’
Toby Alderweireld comeback after a period of injuries, wasn’t good with this poor and at times frightening first half. Together with team captain Jan Vertonghen, the Belgian formed a trusted central duo again at the back. Nicolai Boilesen started as left defender, while Anita operated as controller from midfield. Alderweireld made his comeback a successful one. In the first fifteen minutes after half time, Ajax presented themselves more self-assured than in the full 45 minutes before half time. Towering high above the Nijmegen defence, Alderweireld headed a perfectly aimed shot in the 66th minute: 1-2. The Belgian brought his squad a valuable victory, as it turned out thirty minutes later. Ajax didn’t give up the lead, partly thanks to a crucial save by Vermeer. With Aras Özbiliz (for Mounir El Hamdaoui) and Eyong Enoh as Lorenzo Ebecilio’s replacement, the fight for the title remains exciting in Amsterdam as well.
,,The first half was dramatic, I can’t believe we let them walk all over us like that. Our second half was reasonable, good at times’, De Boer characterised the 35th edition of NEC – Ajax in the Dutch Eredivisie. ,,Looking at the entire match, a draw may have been justified. But at the end of the day, naturally, I am very happy with this 1-2 score. Now of course, we are dependent on PSV, but first and foremost, we must remain focused on our own game.’’
PSV did what it needed to do against Heracles Almelo the same afternoon: a 2-0 win. FC Twente did falter whilst visiting De Graafschap. The title defender didn’t manage to get beyond a one all draw and lost two very valuable points in the race for the championship. PSV and FC Twente lead with an even amount of points (65), but the club from Eindhoven have a better goal difference. Ajax is hot on their heels with only one point between them. With three more finals to go (and the Dutch FA Cup final as and extra final battle) Ajax, PSV and FC Twente are in for a heated league finale.
Tune into Ajax TV for a summary of NEC – Ajax and the comments of Frank de Boer, Toby Alderweireld and Miralem Sulejmani after the match.
Text: Ajax.nl/ Ronald Jonges
Photographs: Ajax.nl/ Louis van de Vuurst