Ajax was on the brink of suffering a one-point loss at Cambuur. At the last minute, Davy Klaassen did what he hadn’t managed to do in the closing phase of Wednesday’s match against AC Milan. With a fierce shot, he brought his team to victory in this much-disputed win: 1-2.
What’s the recipe for processing a disappointing elimination from the Champions League? Ajax sought and found the ingredients to wash away the midweek hang-over – literally – at the last minute. The Ajax players seemed at times to still be in San Siro with their thoughts. The result was a scanty number of opportunities. Spurred on by 10.000 enthusiastic spectators, Cambuur had a glimpse of success in the first half and in the closing minutes. First Erik Bakker shot, from a free kick, just a fraction wide of Jasper Cillessen’s goal. Five minutes later, Mohamed El Makrini was on the ball, at striking distance from Cillessen. Once again the Amsterdam team, who hadn’t yet created a single opportunity, breathed a sigh of relief.
“We lost possession unnecessarily”, Frank de Boer said, looking back at his team’s narrow escape. “With that, we brought ourselves away from our own game. Today, it wasn’t just one player who was sub-par, there were about seven of them. Some guys thought they could get away with only giving forty per cent.”
Was it a lack of sharpness that was the explanation for Ajax’s sloppy play on the artificial turf in Friesland? Wherever the truth lies, the Amsterdam natives did get maximum return on the one real opportunity they created. Five minutes before the break, Davy Klaassen (after great preparation work from Kolbeinn Sigthórsson) made the pass on which Lasse Schöne scored: 0-1. This first flawless attack had delivered immediate results for Ajax. Despite the fact that Frank de Boer had reinstated his midfield, with Daley Blind in the centre once again, Ajax didn’t manage to make a dent in the first half. During this football afternoon, which felt very long at times, the difference in levels remained too small between the Jupiler League’s last champion and the current national champion.
Centre forward Sigthórsson was one of the new starters in the Amsterdam squad. The Icelander had to content himself with a substitution stint against AC Milan. Ruben Ligeon returned as left back, and Lucas Andersen edged his fellow Dane Viktor Fischer out of the squad. “Lucas deserved to show what he can do at the highest level”, explained De Boer. “He’s a big talent.” After his European match suspension, Joël Veltman and his companion Niklas Moisander formed a central defensive duo once again.
Christian Poulsen, Bojan Krikic, Stefano Denswil and Fischer had all been on the squad against Milan on Wednesday. In Friesland, they started out as onlookers. The only Ajax player who was happy about his spot on the bench was Jaïro Riedewald. The 17 year old A-junior was included in the selection by De Boer on Saturday. After his match against Cambuur, the defender is still awaiting for his debut in Ajax 1. Cambuur – Ajax has only been played four times in history.
Ajax, wearing red socks (a change due to Cambuur’s white ones) came into its own game after the break. With Danny Hoesen (in for Sigthórsson) and Fischer (for Andersen), in as substitutes for the last twenty minutes, Ajax hoped to get extra power to score a deciding second goal. Cambuur gave everything it had to force as tying goal. Thus, central defender Ramon Leeuwin started an aggressive attack, with consequences. Ten minutes before time, Cillessen made a sublime save against a Leeuwin header. Two minutes later, Cambuur went for it again. Leeuwin sent the ball into the goal area, after which Michiel Hemmen gave it the last, scoring, tick: 1-1.
Jody Lukoki, loaned out from Ajax, celebrated the Cambuur goal from the dug-out. Cambuur’s forward had been swapped out three quarters of the way through the match. Ajax seemed defeated after this blow. Cambuur coach Dwight Lodeweges let his team play full-on offense. Fortunately, a goal was scored on the other end of the field in extra time. Klaassen shot hard, and precisely: 1-2. Ajax thus escaped a tie. It was a last – minute one, but spectacular nonetheless.
“We played with fire today”, said De Boer. “Especially in the closing phase, you know that Cambuur will go for broke and the ball can fall the wrong way, and fly in. We had the good fortune that we are leaving with three points today. But it was really back today. I’m very dissatisfied with the way we played, but I’m happy with the points.”
Keep watching Ajax TV for highlights of Cambuur – Ajax, and reactions afterwards from Frank de Boer, Davy Klaassen and Joël Veltman.