With Jeffrey Sarpong as the likely replacement for Wesley Sneijder, Ajax begin a string of crucial league matches against Willem II in the ArenA tomorrow. Willem II are the first of five opponents of modest stature, teams against which Ajax should get a maximum result. ,,It's no use saying 'we shall' and 'we must', but it should be possible and that's what we're relying on. It would mean a big step toward the playoffs'', said coach Danny Blind when he met the press on Tuesday.
After the loss against Feyenoord, Ajax are now in eighth place in the league table, but the difference with number five FC Groningen is three points. Ajax should be able to overcome that deficit, considering that Blind's team faces lower ranked clubs in the next few matches: after Willem II, the opponents are ADO Den Haag, RBC Roosendaal, Heracles Almelo and Sparta, before PSV come to the Amsterdam ArenA on 11 March.
,,We are in a difficult situation right now, that's obvious'', said Blind when asked how embarrassing Ajax's current ranking is. ,,How you report that, is your problem. But I am busy realising our goals and that should also be the case in the squad. Without wanting to paint too pretty a picture, we should realise that we can still finish the season on a positive note. It would be tough on other teams if we qualify for the playoffs after a bad season and they don't after a good season. But if down the linje we het there, I would just be happy.''
Ajax will have to mis injured players Wesley Sneijder, Nicolae Mitea, Edgar Manucharyan and Steven Pienaar, and also will have to make do without Hatem Trabelsi. The Tunisian defender was eliminated with his country in the quarter final of the Africa Cup, but he was not back in Holland in time to attend Tuesday's training session. Sneijder reinjured one of his hamstring muscles against Feyenoord, something that has bothered him the past weeks. Blind has drawn his conclusions from that. ,,Wesley has to take more time to recover. He has to follow the normal way to get the whole muscle group back to fitness. It's no use going in and then out again all the time.''
If Blind wants to keep his team intact for the biggest part, he may have to call on Jeffrey Sarpong, 17 years old and first-year A-junior, to replace Sneijder in midfield. The talented youngster played 30 minutes against Feyenoord as a substitute on Sunday. Blind: ,,Jeffrey is a good player, is good with his right and his left and is skilled technically. He'll get the time to grow into his role in the squad.''
The coach also expressed the wish that the fans would support the team and not resort to boos and whistles, as happened in the recent past. ,,I'm hoping for one thing and that is that people see that it's serious now and that we need everything and everybody to get back on track, including our supporters.''