‘Duels against AZ are always appealing’

‘Duels against AZ are always appealing’

On Wednesday, Frank de Boer and Davy Klaassen looked ahead to the upcoming cup match against AZ. The fourth North Holland Derby of the season is being taken very seriously by the Ajax camp. A spot in the KNVB Cup finals it at stake on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Frank de Boer and Davy Klaassen looked ahead to the upcoming cup match against AZ. The fourth North Holland Derby of the season is being taken very seriously by the Ajax camp. A spot in the KNVB Cup finals it at stake on Thursday.

The three previous confrontations had mixed results. The battle for the Johan Cruijff Trophy, the season’s opening act, was won by the Amsterdam team in overtime (2-3). The competition match in the AFAS Stadium was a tumultuous loss. After Ricardo van Rhijn’s red card, Ajax lost, 3-2. In the new calendar year, the Amsterdam team free-wheeled to a problem-free 4-0 win in front of the home crowd.

“AZ is a good opponent”, said De Boer of the Alkmaar team’s strengths. “If we don’t believe in ourselves on Thursday, we’ll have a difficult time. We had a tough time during the Johan Cruijff Trophy match, but we won. We easily won our competition home game. AZ can be a tough opponent for any team. But if we play our own game, we definitely have a chance to win.”
Davy Klaassen supported his coach’s assessment. “They’re a tough team who are playing well”, said the midfielder, who was forced to miss the first two matches against AZ due to his injury. Klaassen didn’t play his first minutes until later on, but, very quickly, he has evolved into a key pillar. “AZ is also a team which creates a lot of work. It’s always fun to play them, especially since AZ always want to play. They never roll over. They’re usually very appealing games.”

‘Cup keeper’ Kenneth Vermeer is fit and available. He had been suffering a groin injury, but, as of last week, has been joining the trainings without issues. Nicolai Boilesen is fit again, too. The Dane has recovered from a hamstring injury. De Boer has announced that both players will get playing time against AZ. Vermeer should be there from kick-off. It remains to be seen how long Boilesen can play for. “We are taking this cup match very seriously and are not going to spare any players”, continued De Boer. He recalled the last cup match against the Alkmaar team. Ajax lost last season’s cup tournament semi-final match in a deflating 0-3 loss in the ArenA. “A few players were in the red then”, said De Boer, referring to the then-physical condition of several Ajax players. “Now, two very good matches await us, and we can’t drop the ball. We need to show what we can do, forget about peripheral issues and focus completely on the upcoming match.”

After the tie with NAC Breda, there were ten match-free days (and a few recent days off) for the players and coaches from the A-selection. De Boer: “After two mediocre games, we know we need to do better. After a few days of rest, we feel good. Our focus is now on AZ and FC Twente.” Both opponents are not to be underestimated. First, a spot in the cup finals needs to be earned, at the expense of the Alkmaar team. “AZ clearly has good momentum. They’re still active in three competitions and are in the running for two titles. That’s pretty impressive. The rest we had did us good, exactly because we didn’t have such good momentum. We reacted too much to what happened against Cambuur and NAC. That’s a sign that we weren’t mentally fit. Instead of reacting, we should have been anticipating.”

Davy Klaassen celebrated the championships of 2012 and 2013. Just like for his coach, the cup has remained beyond reach in the past seasons. “Cup matches are special”, continued Klaassen. “We hope to reach the cup finals on Thursday, and will give it everything we have. This match may not be a final, but playing AZ away is a pretty tough match.”