,,It's an open race, from now on, everything is possible'', said Ajax coach Danny Blind after his team had won 2-4 in Waalwijk against RKC in the last regular season match. Ajax finish fourth in the league table and face Feyenoord in the first round of the playoffs. The first match, in Amsterdam, is on Thursday.
It was not easy for Ajax in the Mandemakers Stadium in Waalwijk. Knowing that one point would secure a playoff spot, RKC's Anthony Lurling was the first one to strike. The quick forward went by John Heitinga, and defeated Maarten Stekelenburg: 1-0.
,,We started poorly," said Blind. ,,The 1-0 did not come as a real surprise. It was the consequence of how we began the match. We were not sharp enough."
The slow start lasted 25 minutes. Less than ten minutes after Lurling's goal, John Heitinga signed for the equaliser. The central defender came forward, Klaas Jan Huntelaar provided the cross and Heitinga got his revenge and fired in the ball: 1-1.
The goal seemd to revive Ajax. An error in RKC's defence helped the visitors further ahead. Stephan Keller was shown his second yellow card when he touched the ball with his hand. Huntelaar put away the penalty: 1-2.
Ajax played in a lineup that was different from the past weeks. Urby Emanuelson returned to the left back position, Markus Rosenberg played as offensive midfielder behind striker Huntelaar and Ryan Babel started as left winger. Rosenberg had to be replaced by Nourdin Boukhari after only twelve minutes when he suffered an injury. Shortly after the match it was unclear whether Rosenberg would be able to play on Tuesday when Ajax face Feyenoord in the ArenA in the first playoff match.
Almost immediately after halftime, Ajax locked up the win. Boukhari fired in the 1-3. Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg had been replaced by then. With the important playoffs for a place in the preliminary round of the Champions League just days ahead, Hans Vonk came on for Stekelenburg who had a slight calf injury.
After a series of missed chances and half chances, Huntelaar was on target for Ajax. Midfielder Hedwiges Maduro set up the fourth Ajax goal with a hard shot. RKC goalkeeper Rob van Dijk saved the effort but in the rebound Huntelaar scored. RKC's Tim Peters made it 2-4 right before the end.
,,Against Feyenoord, everything is possible,'' Blind repeated. The rivals face each other on Thursday in Amsterdam (20.15 hrs) and Sunday in Rotterdam.