They almost lost again, but thanks to a spectacular revival, Ajax managed to secure the Johan Cruijff Plate for the first time again since 2007. After Kolbeinn Sigthórsson scored 2 all, Siem de Jong put his squad into the lead against cup winner AZ in extra time.
AZ manager Gertjan Verbeek had Ajax down as the favourites and that became clear in his battle plan. His squad predominantly fell back on their own half and let Ajax determine the game. It is a tactic many clubs apply when they come up against the national champion. Particularly in the Amsterdam ArenA, even though, according to regulations, AZ was playing a home game. Nevertheless there were thousands of Ajax fans in the stands, as opposed to some seven hundred supporters for the Alkmaar squad.
Both sides watched Ajax dominate. The ball moved around swiftly, however, it has to be said that many attacks faltered just before the AZ penalty area. The Ajax players often opted for an extra combination instead of a shot on goal. Bojan Krkic, for example. The light-footed right-winger, who transferred from Barcelona this summer, is a true artist when it comes to dribbling and combining. He’s great to watch, but sometimes he waited just a little to long to take the shot.
It was choices such as those which marked Ajax’ game in the first half. The eagerness for the combinations deserves praise, but the yield was non-existent. Were there no opportunities at all then, in the first half? Yes, there were, but no great ones. The best one was for team captain Siem de Jong. After a combination with Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, the attacker ripped the AZ defence apart, but his crossing pass was intercepted at the very last minute by one of the Alkmaar players.
Manager De Boer was pleased with his squad’s game in this stage of the match. ,,The only thing lacking was that final pass. There were some good crossing passes, but sometimes an AZ player managed to get his head or his leg in the way.’’ Regarding AZ, the opponent, who barely had any significant opportunities: ,,They almost got us for our sloppiness. That was their strategy. They grouped together and held out for a counter.’’
Those counters rarely occurred in the first half. All the more in the second half, though, which was filled with spectacle. AZ scored via Gudmundsson after only five minutes. The goal could be disputed, as Daley Blind was down on the ground, injured after a collision with AZ player Gouweleeuw. Nevertheless AZ completed the attack perfectly. A through pass by Gouweleeuw, a lateral pass by Jóhannsson and a perfectly controlled shot on goal by Gudmundsson. ,,A counter by the book’’, De Boer commented afterwards. ,,But I do think it was a foul against Blind. Gouweleeuw came in uncontrolled.’’ Whether he would have lost a one-on-one back in the day? Perhaps not, the coach said, but he understood that Blind approached the one-on-one reservedly. ,,For fear of breaking his jaw.’’
Shortly after the opening goal, Aron Jóhannsson scored 0-2. De Boer feared a severe beating. ,,It could easily have become 3-0 or 4-0. There was quite a bit of tension on the bench.’’
Even though it was a disappointment, his players didn’t appear at all defeated after AZ scored the 2-0. On the contrary: with great fighting spirit they embarked on their revival, which was to result in extra time after ninety minutes of play. Albeit with a bit of luck, as Gouweleeuw headed the ball into his own goal in the 69th minute. Six minutes later Sigthórsson scored 2 all in the rebound, after a belter by Alderweireld was punched away by Esteban. After that both Blind and Sigthórsson had an opportunity to shoot Ajax to victory, but they both ran into Esteban.
The following thirty minutes turned the season’s overture into a serious test case for Ajax. But Frank de Boer’s squad appeared in shape and passed the fitness test with flying colours. AZ still had some strength left in them, but significantly less than Ajax, who kept searching for that winning goal, with quick combinations. And eventually they found it. Scorer: Siem de Jong. Midfielder Eriksen assisted, after which De Jong headed the ball into the back of the net with great control. Ajax had very little to fear from AZ after that. The score almost went up to 2-4, but the 47,000 spectators had seen their last goal of the day with De Jong’s goal.
De Boer on the victory: ,,We are pleased. It’s another prize. But it was a tough match, due to the heat and humidity. And I wasn’t pleased about going into extra time. At this stage you want to keep everyone fit and 120 minutes does not contribute to that.’’