Ajax won its last group match of the Champions League on Wednesday evening 4-0, defeating APOEL Nicosia. The club thus qualifies for the Europa League again. “We were able to give the crowd a treat in the second half with all of those goals”, said Frank de Boer.
Just like his players, De Boer was surprised at the opponent’s tactics: “We thought we’d be meeting a team who would be going for broke. But we were surprised by a kind of 5-3-1-1 line-up. I needed to think about how to solve that one. I had an idea early on, but wasn’t able to pass it on to the team. The intention was that, in possession, Nick Viergever would move to the left half and Lucas Andersen to 10. That way, we’d have an extra man at midfield. In the break, I told them that we were lucky to have a 1-0 lead. Their midfield needed to run a lot and if we would set up our men a bit differently, we’d make it harder for them. I was pleased with the approach. We didn’t leave them alone for a single minute and I need to give my team a huge compliment for that. We also gave the crowd a treat, with those three goals.”
When De Boer was asked by a reporter if he thought congratulations were in order for the Europa League qualification, the coach’s answer was ‘no’. “If you end up in a pool with Barcelona and PSG, you know that there’s a big chance that you’ll end up in the Europa League. But we didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity to put these teams under pressure. That’s a shame. It’s a shame that the players didn’t realize what was at stake.”
De Boer refuses to build up expectations in terms of Europa League achievements: “We’ll take it one opponent at a time. Last year, we had a hard time against Salzburg. We need to stretch ourselves to the maximum but it’s possible that we’ll simply meet a team that is better than we are. I hope it doesn’t happen yet. I don’t know what will happen, but it’s always good to dream.”