Ajax A1 made a convincing European debut on Wednesday evening. At de Toekomst sports complex, Fred Grim’s – whose birthday it was – team won its opening match of the NextGen Series 2-0 against Aston Villa. Nick de Bondt and substitute Viktor Fischer scored for Ajax’s highest youth team.
As of this season, Ajax A1 is playing European football. In addition to the usual competition matches and cup matches, Ajax is participating in the NextGen Series with fifteen other U-19 teams. This is a European tournament in which the next generation of football players can measure themselves against their competitors at a very high level. The participants are of a high level themselves: from FC Barcelona to Internazionale, and Tottenham Hotspur. In addition to Aston Villa, Fenerbahçe and Rosenborg are Ajax’s other opponents in the pool.
“It’s a great learning opportunity for they guys”, said Grim, before the match against Aston Villa. “They’ll learn to play foreign teams who have different playing styles. Travelling to European matches is also new for them. The matches follow each other in rapid succession. So they need to focus within a short period every time. These are all issues that they will face later with the seniors. The NextGen Series offers them the possibility to gain experience with these things now.”
Ajax’s European start was good. Thanks to two well played out opportunities, the A-juniors collected a swift three points in their first group match. Both goals came from the left flank. After seventeen minutes, left winger Nick de Bondt opened the score, by speedily seeking the opposing goal and hitting his mark successfully. Shortly after the break, his replacement Viktor Fischer doubled the score. The young Dane, who joined Ajax last season, has left his injuries behind and gave a great show to the spectators who had come to the ‘European evening’ at de Toekomst.
The spectators saw the keeper, Mickey van der Hart, play a great game. He kept his team alive twice before the break thanks to his feline reflexes, eliminating the threats from Aston Villa. On his 46th birthday, coach and former keeper Grim enjoyed Van der Hart’s performance. “He kept us in the game. Especially since we didn’t manage to score more goals. Because of that, we had to keep pushing for the entire match.” Among others, Fabian Sporkslede (header) and captain Davy Klaassen had opportunities after the break to lock up the match, but neither Ajax’s number 3 nor number 10 managed to alter the scoreboard.
Among all the juniors in Ajax, it was 19 year old Joeri de Kamps who was the most experienced player. Grim had taken the opportunity to use an older player. The NextGen Series rules stipulate that three players (among which, two on the field) may be older than 19. The A1 coach gave Jong Ajax’s midfielder a leading role at midfield. “The coach expected me to lead the guys. That’s a great challenge, as it was only last season that I was in A1 myself”, said De Kamps.
A week after his Ajax 1 debut (practice match in Almere City), the roles were reversed on Wednesday night for De Kamps: “There certainly was a big difference. Last week, I played for the first time with players who have already reached so much. That evening, I realised that I can learn so much, definitely from someone like André Ooijer, for example. It was the opposite tonight. This time, I was the one in the leader’s position. That’s extra demanding, especially in a match against an opponent from abroad. Everyone plays 4-3-3 in the competition, while foreign teams almost always play with two centre forwards. It’s great for our development to regularly face that kind of opposition. For that, a match like this against Aston Villa is very valuable.”
On Saturday afternoon, champion Ajax A1 opens the Dutch football season when they face cup winner NAC A1 in the match for the Supercup. The match at de Toekomst starts at 2.30p.m. A1 starts competition play four days later with a home game against their counterparts from Willem II/RKC.
Score: De Bondt 1-0, 49. Fischer 2-0.
Ajax A1 line-up: Mickey van der Hart, Sven Nieuwpoort, Fabian Sporkslede, Stefano Denswil, Xandro Schenk, Joeri de Kamps, Davy Klaassen, Ouasim Bouy (62. Darren Rosheuvel), Lesley de Sa, Rowendy Schoop (79. Boban Lazic), Nick de Bondt (46. Viktor Fischer).