After a week-long lay-off because of the play-offs for Euro 2004, in which Holland qualified at the expense of Scotland, Ajax faced Heerenveen for the Dutch league. A good last hour was enough to erase an early deficit and Ajax won 3-1. It was the start of a tough week in which Ajax will host AC Milan on Wednesday and Feyenoord next Sunday in the Amsterdam ArenA.
Coach Ronald Koeman will have to field a different line-up against AC Milan. Today he missed Johnny Heitinga who served a one-game suspension. Zdenek Grygera played as central defender with Nigel de Jong as the right back. Wednesday Grygera will be suspended, just as Rafael van der Vaart, who was also suspended for the match against Heerenveen. ,,We will see tomorrow how we have come out of this match. Maxwell took a hit in the knee. I will definitely play Johnny Heitinga as a centre back against Milan.''
As Ajax's right midfielder, Anthony Obodai made his first official appearance for Ajax 1. The 21-year old Ghanese played on loan for Germinal Beerschot Antwerpen last year. He returned to Amsterdam in the summer to join the A-squad, after impressing the coaches in a friendly against Holland in June. ,,Wesley Sonck moves to the middle a lot as right winger, so we needed a real right half, Koeman explained. ,,Steven Pienaar is one, but he is injured. Then you look for a replacement and that is Obodai. I think he played well today.
The whole team played well, except for the first half hour. Ajax had to play catch-up once again. Former Ajax striker Gerald Sibon put his team in the lead when he headed in a corner. The home side regrouped and in little over a minute (from the 36th to the 38th) Ajax breezed through Heerenveen's defence. Wesley Sneijder, again strong after a fantastic performance for Holland on Wednesday, and Nicolae Mitea turned the tables and made it 2-1.
Ajax were in control and could have scored more goals. But only Zlatan Ibrahimovic was on target. First, in the 53rd minute, he was ruled offside, but six minutes later he could celebrate. Obodai touched it to the Swede who made it 3-1.
After Koeman had replaced Mitea, Ibrahimovic and Sonck with Tom Soetaers, Jari Litmanen and Victor Sikora, Ajax created some more chances but did not score again.
The countdown to the winter break has begun. Ajax will play seven matches until December 21, four for the league, two for the UEFA Champions League and one for the national cup. ,,Difficult macthes in an important period. We have to continue what we are doing'', Koeman said. The first hurdle has been taken. Wednesday, AC Milan awaits.