Lionheart's revenge

Lionheart's revenge

Not only the traditional extatic feeling after an important goal, there was also frustration in the reaction that followed the two goals that gave Ajax a place among the best sixteen clubs in Europe. Nigel de Jong cheered, but also looked angry. The scorer of both Ajax goals was left with mixed feelings after the win against Sparta Prague (2-1).

It hurt him to pass over a player whose qualities are well-known, but Danny Blind forms his teams not on the basis of names or reputations. In his view the individual is always secondary to the collective and the specific qualities have to fit the game plan of the moment. The Ajax coach meant this time that the match's strategy asked for another type of player than Nigel de Jong, the Dutch international who always answers the bell. Blind chose Olaf Lindenbergh and Hedwiges Maduro behind offensive midfielder Wesley Sneijder. ,,In the away match against Sparta Prague there was a big gap between their defence and midfield. We also saw that in other matches of which we had video tape.’’

Halfway throught the match, with the teams at 0-0, the coach adjusted his line-up. Eight minutes into the second half, De Jong came on for Olaf Lindenbergh, even more pumped up than usual. It was a super substitution. Sneijder took a free kick and De Jong headed in the ball: 1-0.

Blind was happy with the revenge of De Jong, who also took care of Ajax's second goal, a minute before time. ,,Of course it hurts me, to bench someone like Nigel, somebody with a lionheart, somebody who always goes for it. It's great that somebody who I have had to disappoint, scores the goals.''

Now, Ajax qualified for the second round of the Champions League, one of Blind's goals at the start of the season. The team reached the goal not without difficulty. Although Ajax had 67 per cent possession, they failed to capitalise on that. If Sparta's goal had come sooner, Ajax would have been punished harshly for their negligence. But now there was time for a modest celebration.