Three days before the important Champions League against AC Milan, Ajax did what they needed to do. In Enschede, league leader Ajax held reigning champion FC Twente to a 2-2 tie on Saturday evening. As PSV wasted points against Groningen, Ajax is, just as last week, the weekend’s big winner.
At half time, as well as at the end, Ajax could happily note that the competition hadn’t gained any ground on them. At half time, the league leader learned of the 1-1 PSV – FC Groningen tie (numbers two and three), and they themselves kept number four FC Twente to a tie. Encouraging results, especially leading up to their second Champions League duel on Tuesday against AC Milan.
Sandwiched between the cup and CL matches for Twente and Ajax, this competition match between them was one worth watching. From the very beginning, the showdown in Enschede didn’t disappoint. Last season’s number one and two teams put on a great show on the reigning champions’ home turf. Post, crossbar and goals; everything was on the program in the first half. Luis Suarez started it all after seven minutes with a lob against the crossbar. It was the opener of an especially thrilling first match.
Soon after Suarez’ warning shot, Twente anticipated the Amsterdammers’ threat. Theo Janssen took a shot with a lob of his own, and met with success. On a Denny Landzaat pass, he whipped the ball over goalie Stekelenburg: 1-0. The opening goal came from one of the home team’s few threatening moves during the first half. Ajax took the initiative after this, and saw its efforts rewarded four minutes later with a tying goal. Mounir El Hamdaoui evened it up for Ajax with a shot at the right level. A header from Siem de Jong, on an Emanuelson pass, was initially blocked by keeper Mihaylov, but the Bulgarian goalie was beaten by the second attempt: 1-1.
Jol opted for extra manpower at midfield in the Grolsch Veste. Just as last week against Feyenoord, Rasmus Lindgren got the nod instead of Demy de Zeeuw. “It wasn’t a choice against Demy, but for Rasmus. We look at it game by game”, explained the coach afterwards.
With a tie on the board, Ajax had several opportunities to take the lead in the second half. On a pass from Suarez, Emanuelson’s shot bounced off the post. The captain himself hit the post from a dangerous free kick. Jol was left with dampened enthusiasm midway through. “It’s a shame that we didn’t leave with more after our strong first half.”
After an hour, the home team turned the tables. First, Twente’s Nacer Chadli was threatening. A solid header was superbly saved by Ajax and Dutch team’s keeper, Stekelenburg. Three minutes later, he was tested again, but this time he had no answer for Janssen’s shot. For the second time that night, Twente’s midfielder brought his team into the lead, this time on a pass from Luuk de Jong: 2-1.
But the Tukkers only enjoyed their lead for a short time. Six minutes after it became 2-1, Ajax tied the game again. Eyong Enoh, who until now had reserved his scoring to the match against Willem II, took a merciless shot in the 68th minute straight into the goal. A beautiful goal, fitting perfectly into this thrilling football evening. And, just in case the post hadn’t been hit enough this evening, Luuk de Jong made it tremble once again. Shortly before Enoh’s goal, Ajax player Siem’s brother sent a shot ringing onto the post, which had already been abused twice by Ajax.
In the last ten minutes, the tie was nearly broken. With Demy de Zeeuw, for El Hamdaoui, Ajax closed up midfield. But the show wasn’t over. In keeping with the spirit of the match, the last ten minutes were rife with chances. Substitute Sulejmani (straight onto the keeper’s fists), and Siem de Jong (just wide) came close to scoring Ajax’s third goal. On the opposite end, Douglas had a last chance with a header, but not the last word. The tie worked out well for Ajax. They remain four points up on Twente, and two points up on number two PSV. The cat and mouse game, evoked several times by Jol last season in reference to Ajax’s bid to catch up on Twente, continues this season. But the cat and mouse have swapped places.
Jol: “In retrospect, you can say that this was a good night for Ajax. It’s still a shame that we didn’t capitalize more on our chances in the first half. Especially when visiting such a strong team, you want to leave with more.” Twente coach Prud’homme: “When everything’s added up, the end result makes sense. The first half was Ajax’s, the second half was Twente’s.”