Ajax defeated Heerenveen by 3-1 and reached the finals of the playoffs again. Jeffrey Sarpong, who started for Ajax, played an important role in the match.
,,I'll be happy to just be part of the squad”, Jeffrey Sarpong said on Friday. It was a bit too modest of the young Ajax player, as coach Adrie Koster had bigger plans with the 19-year-old midfielder/forward. Sarpong started against sc Heerenveen in the return match of the first round of the playoffs. Thursday, in the first match, he had played the last ten minutes. This time he played the full 90 minutes, as a left flanker.
Sarpong had to find his footing in the early stages of the game, received some more instructions of Koster after half an hour and then really took off. ,,I told him to keep it simple”, Koster said. ,,Jeffrey had perhaps put a bit too much pressure on himself and started a bit nervously.” Shortly before the end of the first half (when Heerenveen were reduced to ten players after Michael Bradley had received his second yellow card) Kenneth Perez crossed to Sarpong, who kept pushing on and was brought down by goalkeeper Rob van Dijk: a penalty that was converted flawlessly by Kenneth Perez. Ajax were up 1-0 and the playoff finals loomed. ,,Jeffrey did that very well”, Koster said about the situation that resulted in the spot kick. ,,And as the match progressed, he got better and better.”
Sarpong also played an important part in Ajax's second goal, a few minutes into the second half. He moved past his defender on the left wing and crossed to Dennis Rommedahl, who calmly scored. ,,I am glad that I could be important for the team", was Sarpong's reaction afte the match.
Ajax were very comfortable being 2-0 up against ten opponents. When Perez rushed forward to make it 3-0, a huge win was in the cards. But it never got that far, as Heerenveen's coach Gertjan Verbeek decided to excercise some damage control with three conservative substitutions. ,,I had no illusions of us making up a 3-0 deficit with ten players”, Verbeek said. Heerenveen even scored through Danijel Pranjic, but Ajax's win was never in any danger. Koster: ,,We did not play too well in the last 30 minutes, but I am happy with the win and that we have qualified for European football. Our next goal is reaching the preliminary round of the Champions League.”
Ajax now face FC Twente in the finals of the playoffs. The first match will be on Saturday in Emmen, because Twente's Arke Stadium is under reconstruction. Ajax then host Twente on Sunday 18 May.