De Boer: ‘We were lucky’

De Boer: ‘We were lucky’

Ajax posted a surprise 2-1 win at home against league leader PEC Zwolle. After coach Frank de Boer had brought in Siem de Jong, Bojan Krkic and Kolbeinn Sigthórsson in the second half, the team from Amsterdam took a 2-0 lead. Zwolle had a helping hand in this win, as Serero’s 1-0 goal was the result of a deflected shot, and the 2-0 was fully credited to Zwolle defender Van der Werff. Gravenbeek scored the 2-1 goal in the last minute.

Four days before the UEFA Champions League madness breaks out with an away match at FC Barcelona, Ajax faced the Eredivisie leader, PEC Zwolle, at home in the ArenA. After five rounds of play, Ron Jans’ team has earned the most points as well as scored the most goals, and wasn’t going to hold back in Amsterdam. The statistics were against the visitors, as the last time Zwolle had taken home a point was in 1989. Moreover, the team was minus star Mokthar, who had left for FC Twente. Ajax has also suffered losses with the departure of Alderweireld and Eriksen, as well as an injured De Jong, who was on the bench but not in the starting line-up.

But coach Frank de Boer left several big names out of his starting eleven: Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, and loaned out Barcelona player Bojan Krkic were also relegated to the bench at the start. In their places, Viktor Fischer – who had not been selected against FC Groningen – and Danny Hoesen were granted a spot. At midfield, Lerin Duarte got the nod over Christian Poulsen. The newcomer from Heracles thus made his debut in the red and white jersey. De Boer had a good reason for passing on the Icelandic centre forward: “Kolbeinn has already played many games, and he can’t play sixty matches in a season. And Danny Hoesen is hot on his heels, so I chose to start him instead of Kolbeinn. Krkic will probably be playing in Barcelona, and after that, we’ll play an important away match (at PSV). His physical condition won’t allow him to play every three days, especially not three games in eight days. So we need to make choices. Mostly, we need to start doing better.”

Ajax had a decent start against PEC Zwolle, and Thulani Serero, Lerin Duarte and Lasse Schöne formed a mobile midfield. Tobias Sana came close to scoring the first goal in the eighth minute, but shot into the side net instead. Five minutes later, 1-0 almost appeared on the scoreboard again, and perhaps should have. Duarte passed from the right, after which Denswil came into a good position in front of keeper Begois, with a header. But he sent his header onto the keeper instead.
After that, PEC Zwolle started taking more initiative. The team was especially good on the left side, with Bart van Hintum being served a good pass by the dynamic Mokotjo in the 28th minute. Vermeer prevented Zwolle from becoming even more dangerous. Not even ten minutes later, the Ajax keeper was beaten by a hard, difficult shot by Nijland. The ball bounced from his chest onto the field, and Saymak seemed poised to score. The officials called offside.

De Boer didn’t make any immediate changes to his line-up in the second half. But Ron Jans’ team was the one calmly looking for the right combinations, and was the first to pose any danger. Vermeer won the duel against Benson, keeping Ajax’s hopes for taking the lead alive. Newcomer Duarte tried to pick things up and lead the Amsterdam team through a tough phase.
After an hour, De Boer stepped in. Siem de Jong, to great applause from the fans, took to the field after a four week absence due to a collapsed lung. The captain came in for Hoesen, and Fischer was substituted by Bojan. That didn’t produce any immediate effects, as PEC Zwolle remained the more dangerous team. In the 68th minute, the guests took advantage of poor Ajax communication. Two players rushed the Ajax goal, but Van Rhijn’s intervention prevented the guests from taking a lead.

Twenty minutes before the end, Duarte left the field and Sigthórsson entered it. With the Icelandic centre forward’s arrival, the entire front line had changed, since Sana moved to the left. Two minutes later, Ajax took the lead. With a shot which had changed direction from outside the box, Thulani Serero made good, 1-0. In the 75th minute, Ajax doubled the lead. After Sigthórsson had sent a hard shot onto the post, the ball arrived into the goal via Maikel van der Werff’s back: 2-0.
But Zwolle was far from hopeless. In fact, six minutes before time, Denswil prevented a goal from substitute Guyon Fernandez, by degrading his attempt to a corner. But one minute before time, Giovanni Gravenbeek scored the 2-1 goal with a beautiful shot. In the hectic extra time, it almost became a 2-2 game, but Saymak’s shot went wide. “I feel good about the three points”, said De Boer afterwards. “But not about the play we showed. Sometimes you need a bit of luck on your side. Today it was, three times.”

On Wednesday, an opponent of a very different caliber awaits: FC Barcelona, the number one on the UEFA rankings. Ajax is ranked 27th on the same list.