Coach Ronald Koeman was after the draw in the 47th Classic against Feyenoord 'slightly disappointed'. ,,We played a good game, the first 25 minutes excepted. In the closing minutes we had some great chances, but it stayed 1-1." Ajax now trail PSV by four points, but stay seven points ahead of Feyenoord.
,,If we beat Feyenoord, we'll be rid of them", Ronald Koeman knew before the match. The coach meant that the team from Rotterdam would be ten points behind, and virtually out of the race for a place in the Champions League.
That why it was so important that the side from Amsterdam would get a good result against the team of Pierre van Hooijdonk. Ronald Koeman was reasonably happy after the eventual draw. ,,We lost two points in respect to PSV, but we kept Feyenoord at seven points behind us. And since a few players will come back from injuries soon, that margin with feyenoord gives us confidence towards the end of the season. We can still go for the title."
Like Koeman had predicted, Feyenoord took the initiative from the first whistle. That was not easy on the young Ajax players. With Kalou as Feyenoord's engine, Van Damme was pressured regularly. And with free-kick specialists Van Hooijdonk and Van Persie Feyenoord's coach Van Marwijk had two more weapons. Goalkeeper Lobont had to stretch toward the crossbar when Van Persie struck from distance in the 12th minute.
Ajax hardly managed an attack in the first twenty minutes. Feyenoord was quick and offensive-minded. Koeman: ,,We were back-pedalling, we played to close to our own penalty box. We could not put pressure forward and that's asking for trouble. I can yell whatever I want from the bench, but I am at the players' mercy."
But the tide turned. Ajax played further from their own goal, combined more effectively and created chances. With immediate result. In the 28th minute Van der Meyde passed to Zlatan, who had no trouble scoring: 1-0. The match had tilted and Ajax had some more little opportunities. ,,That goal startled us'', said Van Marwijk. ,,Understandibly, because we played very well in the first 25 minutes. It is hard when they score from the first chance they get."
Feyenoord was almost done for the first half. The guests showed up only one more time on the other end. Van Persie had to push away Chivu. And since referee Jol did not judge it a foul, the young Feyenoord player went on and made it 1-1. Koeman: ,,I saw the replay and it was a clear foul. Jol called a good game, but he should have seen this one."
Jelle van Damme did not return after halftime. The Belgian defender hasd received a blow to the ribs and was coughing up blood in the dressing room. Koeman brought on Boukhari and moved Maxwell to left back. Pienaar, the best players on the pitch in the first half, went to midfield.
Both teams had their chances early in the second half. On the side of Ajax De Jong could have given a better pass to the free Zlatan and Boukhari was unlucky to see his lob end on the crossbar.
Chivu often went forward in attack. That meant that he left a gap in defence and with the speed of Van Persie and Buffel Feyenoord was dangerous at those times.
,,The second half was a bit hectic at times", Van Marwijk thought. ,,We could have decided the match, but Ajax too. I think 1-1 is the correct result."
yet Ajax could have decided the game in the exciting final minutes. Van der Meyde struck hard, only to see the ball bounce back onto the field from the inside of the cross bar.
Zlatan scored with a header, but the goal was disallowed because Boukhari had obstructed the goalkeeper. Therefore the final score remained 1-1. Koeman: ,,I have to extend my compliments to the team, especially for the second half. There were only young guys in midfield for us, and they did great."