El Hamdaoui’s gems set Ajax on course

El Hamdaoui’s gems set Ajax on course

Two stunning goals by Mounir El Hamdaoui brought Ajax to victory in their home match against sc Heerenveen. After a tentative start, Ajax grew into a confident second half, resulting in a 3-1 win for the home team.

Ajax was looking to perform better than in their last match, last Sunday against Excelsior in Woudestein. This match, blemished by Anita’s red card (which was dismissed on Monday), Ajax wasted costly points: 2-2. On home turf, their start against sc Heerenveen was in the same awkward vein. The early lead thanks to El Hamdaoui’s goal (1-0), couldn’t pick up the sluggish pace, or spice up the predictable plays of the match. But there was no faulting the splendour of El Hamdaoui’s goal. He chipped the ball beautifully over keeper Kevin Stuhr Ellegaard. The opening goal brought back memories of the home game against NAC Breda, when El Hamdaoui had also struck gold. The Moroccan player seems to be in touch with Dennis Bergkamp, who was watching on Wednesday. Ajax’s number 9’s plays are very reminiscent of the non-flying Dutchman’s peak.

Club icon and youth coach Bergkamp also saw Maarten Stekelenburg return to the goal. In addition to Ajax losing a point on Sunday in Woudestein, the first keeper also suffered an injury. But the knee injury didn’t stand in the way of him starting three days later. André Ooijer returned to the squad as well. Martin Jol made a tactical change, opting to play Rasmus Lindgren. Demy de Zeeuw, suffering a slight knee injury, started out on the bench as a precaution.

Fifteen minutes after 1-0, the Fries team tied the game, taking advantage of Ajax’s defensive mistakes. First, Jan Vertonghen was trumped by Roy Beerens, after which Stekelenburg was too late to stop Bas Dost’s shot. The attacker simply ticked the ball into Ajax’s goal: 1-1. Ajax’s tempo was sluggish, and before the break, they gambled on creating opportunities from static situations. Luis Suarez’s free kick curved dangerously, but Stuhr Ellegaard made the save. Lindgren also saw his attempt, from 25 meters, blocked by the Fries goalie. Ten minutes before the break, Suarez saw another free kick get deflected, and hit the crossbar. It was clear to Ajax’s Uruguayan captain that things weren’t going his way right before halftime. First, Stuhr Ellegaard was once again in the way of Suarez’s close range shot. Then, Ajax’s captain got the rebound, but sent it wide. Instants later, referee Eric Braamhaar’s whistle blew to end the half.

“We should have made it 2-0 soon after our first goal, but we couldn’t”, said assistant coach Danny Blind. The assistant stood in at the press conference for Martin Jol, ill with the flu. “Heerenveen came back in the match. But after halftime, the match was ours. Our tandem out in front created great opportunities.”

El Hamdaoui helped the home team, just as he had on Sunday against Excelsior, by scoring early in the second half. This goal was just as stunning as his first. Centre defender Arnold Kruiswijk unwittingly headed Eyong Enoh’s pass from the right straight to El Hamdaoui. The striker took possession, coolly evaluated the space for his shot, and then sent a controlled, razor sharp shot into the far corner.

Two seasons ago, Ajax – sc Heerenveen resulted in a 0-1 win for the guests. But Ajax didn’t let things get that far on Wednesday. Perhaps warned by Jong Ajax’s defeat on Monday against Jong Heerenveen/Emmen (5-2), they didn’t give anything away. With Demy de Zeeuw in for Siem de Jong, the home team gained some stability, partly by losing possession less.

“We did well after the break with the early 2-1 lead”, continued Blind at the conference. “There wasn’t much doubt about who would win the game. We deserved the win, and I think the crowd enjoyed it.”

El Hamdaoui continued to pose the most danger to the opponents. The striker’s preparation was perfect as he brought Anita into position. The left back stormed into the penalty area, with his shot landing on the crossbar. The rebound bounded to Suarez’s feet. Seconds after Anita had tested the crossbar, Suarez saw his shot meet the same fate. Five minutes later, Anita treated the 47612 spectators to another goal. The defender rounded off another rush by scoring: 3-1.

The crowd cheering as El Hamdaoui left the field (for Miralem Sulejmani) was a fitting end to a match where Ajax seemed mainly to play against itself. The many opportunities they created only resulted in three goals. “If you score two great goals, it makes your day”, said Ajax player of the match El Hamdaoui during a post- match interview. “Which one did I like best? I thought they were both good.”