False start for Ajax

False start for Ajax

PEC Zwolle has done it again. After the historic knock-out in the 2014 KNVB Cup final, Ron Jans’ team has defeated Ajax once again in the match for the Johan Cruijff Shield XIX. PEC won the season opener 1-0 in the ArenA on Sunday.

The match for the Johan Cruijff Shield was a repeat of the last cup final. On April 20, PEC Zwolle outclassed the Ajax team on many fronts, with a 5-1 end score as a result. This historic thrashing, naturally, could not be healed. A better result (read: a win) in the Johan Cruijff Shield XIX would, however – several months after the fact – ease the blow somewhat. A Band-Aid on the wound. But instead of that comforting scenario, the Zwolle team simply rubbed salt in the Amsterdam wound. PEC is fast becoming a significant thorn in Ajax’s side.

One week after the last friendly match of the pre-season, against Benfica, Frank de Boer went with the same eleven players for the PEC Zwolle cup match. The Eredivisie champion reached a high level in the Estadio da Luz, especially in the first half. This resulted in a good 0-1 win over Benfica, a UEFA Europa League finalist. Ajax seemed ready for the upcoming work in the national competitions. One week before the start of the Eredivisie, the Amsterdam team suffered a mental setback.

Kenneth Vermeer was the starting goalie against PEC, standing in for World Cup keeper Jasper Cillessen, who was still enjoying his holidays. The goalie spent his last day of vacation watching his club playing in the ArenA, just like the other World Cup players, Joël Veltman and Daley Blind (although this last trained last week at the Toekomst). The injured Ricardo van Rhjin also watched from the fully packed stands.

In the Cruijff Shield match, the crowd welcomed no fewer than three Ajax players making a debut. Arek Milik was assigned the role of starting centre forward. Nick Viergever was also in the starting line-up at kick-off. Viergever, who celebrated his 25th birthday today, started as midfield controller. The former AZ player didn’t experience a very enjoyable first official match in his Ajax jersey. Viergever missed a colossal opportunity in the starting minutes (shot onto the post after pre-work by Davy Klaassen), and sustained a knee wound which needed to be stitched up in the locker room. The midfielder was able to return, but when the wound opened up again after 38 minutes, the unfortunate player was substituted by Thulani Serero. Anwar El Ghazi also made his official Ajax debut after the break. The pre-season’s top scorer (8 goals) came in for left winger Ricardo Kishna nearing the one-hour mark.

The traditional match between the cup winner and national champion started off sloppily. Keepers Diederik Boer and Vermeer were made to work now and then; but there were not that many opportunities. Five minutes after Boer saw Viergever’s attempt hit the post; Mustafa Saymak had the first chance for the Zwolle team. He lifted the ball over Vermeer, above the top of the goal. It was then tit-for-tat. Boer boxed Schöne’s free kick out of the goal. Later on, Vermeer did the same on a long-distance shot from Ben Reinstra. Ajax didn’t manage to break through the Zwolle defensive wall. Ajax remained far from the levels they had reached against Benfica.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much for Ajax fans to enjoy in the second half, either. Schöne came close to scoring again with another free kick. The Danish Ajax player’s attempt went just wide. It was a costly miss, as one minute later, Zwolle player Stef Nijland did make good. Serero’s loss of possession turned out to be costly as well. Kamohelo Mokotjo picked it up and brought Nijland into position: 1-0. The ‘visitors’ seemed unable to score in the final minutes. Vermeer and Boer were tested, but to no avail. The Zwolle goalie even made two remarkable saves in short succession at the end. In a flash, the veteran turned away shots by Niklas Moisander and Davy Klaassen.

Nicolai Boilesen jumped in to assist his keeper in the closing seconds by turning away a Jesper Drost attempt at the goal line. PEC Zwolle floored Ajax once again with a 1-0 win. This was a genuine false start of the new football season for the national champions…