Ajax played an outstanding game on Sunday. Martin Jol’s team defeated FC Groningen 3-0 in the Amsterdam ArenA. Three days after reaching the Cup final, Jan Vertonghen took credit for two of the three goals. Siem de Jong scored for his fourth game in a row.
Thanks to their win against FC Groningen, Ajax keeps the pressure on FC Twente. The league leader from Enschede was flawless against Sparta Rotterdam on Saturday night. The next day, Ajax posted an equally stellar performance against the Groningen natives, who have only lost twice since the winter break. Their defeat at Ajax marks their third loss, as well as Ajax’s 22nd victory this season.
The last leg of the title race remains very exciting. Twente leads, with Ajax and PSV – who also won on Sunday – hot on their heels. A critical difference is that it doesn’t matter how hard Ajax tries. For them to gain any ground, the leader has to make a mistake. As long as they don’t, they will keep their lead on Ajax by at least four points. A helping had – for example, in the form a loaned out player – would be beneficial. But Twente will not face a player loaned out by Ajax in the last five matches of competition.
For Ajax, the situation is the exact opposite. During the last, deciding games of the season, they will meet no fewer than four of their loaned out players on opposing teams. Mitchell Donald, Jan-Arie van der Heijden (both Willem II), Jeffrey Sarpong (NEC) en Daley Blind, who played a remarkable game against his employer on Sunday. The Ajax player, who has been loaned out to Groningen since the winter break, has been in excellent form with them. There was no doubt about him starting in the match against Ajax. “The most important thing is that loaned out players get as much playing time as possible. Without limitations”, said Jol on Friday. During the match, the right back didn’t create many problems for Ajax, although he did set up teammate Tim Matavz scarily well in front of Ajax’s goal. A great save by Stekelenburg prevented a difficult situation for both Blind and Ajax.
Two minutes after Groningen’s warning shot, Ajax hit the mark. Unlike Suarez and De Jong earlier, Jan Vertonghen made good on his attempt, and scored. The Belgian defender’s header, from Demy de Zeeuw’s free kick, went directly in during the 38th minute: 0-1. Vertonghen’s relief, as well as his teammates’, was palpable. Groningen has been playing well, and it’s no accident that they’ve kept a clean sheet in their three previous competition duels. The opening goal in the ‘top match of 2010’, as Groningen coach Jans had called the match, was worth its weight in gold.
Martin Jol chose to change his line-up against FC Groningen. Unlike for the Cup match against Go Ahead Eagles, Eriksen and Pantelic started on the bench. Luis Suarez was flanked by Urby Emanuelson, Dennis Rommendahl, and the forward oriented De Jong, to form Ajax’s attack. The captain was able to bring his team into a more comfortable spot, both before and after half time. At the end of the first half, he brought De Zeeuw into position with a fine backheel, and soon after the break, he got his own opportunity. Face to face with keeper Van Loo, he shot the ball just wide of the Groningen goal.
In the rest of the second half, Ajax continued to create opportunities, under the watchful eye of future Groningen coach Pieter Huistra, among others. Suarez, on the hunt for his thirtieth competition goal, was active, but unlucky in his finishes. Other attempts were made, but they didn’t phase the Groningen goalie – until the 67th minute. Siem de Jong, who has been very sharp in the last weeks, received the ball from Anita perfectly in his stride, and sent the ball into the near corner with his left foot. A beautiful goal, which set off shouts of relief through the ArenA.
Fifteen minutes before the end, another great moment took place. At 2-0, Blind was called to the sidelines by coach Jans. He was thanked by the Ajax crowd with a standing ovation, crowning a successful afternoon for Ajax, and ensuring that Blind could return to Groningen with a clear conscience. He therefore wasn’t on field for Vertonghen’s closing goal, his second of the match. The Ajax player scored for the second time with a precise header. Jol: “We played the second half out well. The players showed that they’ve got character.”