Ajax had no problems in Saturday’s match against NAC. Moreover, the once feared evening appeared to be a good dress rehearsal for the UEFA Champions League match against Apoel Nicosia. Thanks to three goals from Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, the Amsterdam team posted a relatively easy 2-5 win.
Ajax’s away match against NAC in Breda marked the start of an interesting but challenging week ahead. Middle-of-the-pack team NAC has been playing very well early in the season and has defeated PEC Zwolle (3-1) in its own stadium, as well kept FC Twente to a tie: 1-1. The Twente team also felt how tough a duel in the Rat Verlegh Stadium can be. Ajax was prepared for a big evening against NAC.
Two days after the duel in the Rat Verlegh stadium, Ajax will board a plane to Cyprus. On Tuesday, they face Apeol Nicosia, their second opponent in the UEFA Champions League. In order to continue on both the national and European fronts, Ajax can’t afford any mistakes. Three days after a huge victory against stadium mate JOS Watergraafsmeer (0-9) in the KNVB tournament, Frank de Boer’s selection was surely feeling confident. The blow of the disappointing match against Feyenoord in the Kuip was somewhat softened. However, Ajax won this Classic – in terms of play, the worst one in years – by a score of 0-1. “I trust that we won’t be playing that kind of match against Feyenoord again”, said the Ajax coach a few days before NAC – Ajax. “The players know what went well, and what didn’t.”
One of the team’s good luck charms began on the bench on Saturday evening. Arek Milik, with his six goals, had a royal share in the win against JOS in the Olympic Stadium. The Pole was forced to relinquish his spot as centre forward to Kolbeinn Sigthórsson. Considering Ajax’s busy upcoming schedule, both players will undoubtedly enjoy a lot of playing time. Lasse Schöne is still too injured for a spot in the match selection. It’s possible that the all-rounder will be at Schiphol on Monday to travel to Cyprus. The Dane could potentially play some minutes against Apoel. The Breda team had also had midweek commitments. Nebosja Gudelj’s team reached the third round of the cup tournament at the expense of Spakenburg. The top amateurs were defeated 4-3. One week after the painful loss to Willem II, NAC was seeking redemption in the Eredivisie against the reigning national champions.
Ajax began well in the fast-paced match in Rat Verlegh. The first opportunities for NAC players Stipe Perica (shot) and Adnane Tighadouini (free kick) ended on Jasper Cillessen’s fists. The Ajax keeper also played a key role in last week’s Classic win with his trustworthy keeper’s work. But once again, he wasn’t the only Ajacied commanding centre stage. One minute after the sharp but inoffensive free kick by Tighadouini, Ricardo van Rhijn opened the score. The right back had decided the Classic on a free kick, and the Leiden native also scored on Saturday on a long range shot. Van Rhijn brought his team onto the winning track once again; Ajax was nursing an early lead after 27 minutes.
The match seemed decided two minutes later when Sitghórsson scored too. The Icelander was able to take an unhindered shot at close range, after great preparation from Nicolai Boilesen. The Ajax player was very sharp again ten minutes later, when Davy Klaassen sent him a sublime cross pass in front of Ten Rouwelaar. Sigthórsson didn’t have a moment’s doubt and beat Ten Rouwelaar with a shot into the near corner. With a 0-3 lead seven minutes before the break, the ‘NAC evening’ seemed to be decided. Sigthórsson had a great chance to score Ajax’s fourth goal, and his third, ten minutes into the second half. The centre forward took a penalty shot, prompted by a rough shove by former Ajax player Joeri de Kamps on Lucas Andersen. Sigthórsson sent the shot too sloppily over Ten Rouwelaar’s goal.
The Breda passion ignited briefly, on the field and in the stands, when Perica with a backwards facing header, scored 1-3. This was a short-lived joy. Joël Veltman found the ball, from Klaassen’s corner ball header, at his feet and promptly scored the 1-4 goal. Perica’s 2-4 goal came too late to turn the tide. The last goal was Sigthórsson’s. The Ajax player brought the score to 2-5 in the closing minutes of the game. He thus scored the third goal of the evening, and will board the plane on Monday full of confidence. That’s also a bonus.