National champion Ajax made a great start to the season. The team from Amsterdam closed its first competition match against De Graafschap with a 1-4 win. Miralem Sulejmani was one of Frank de Boer’s most outstanding men on the field, with two goals and threatening play throughout the match.
A new season of Eredivisie means a new opportunity for success. Ajax met De Graafschap for their first match. The team from Amsterdam came as title holders on a mission to end 2011-2012 with their 31st title in club history. Derk Boerrigter made his competition debut with Ajax in Doetinchem (after substituting during the FC Twente match last week in the match for the Johan Cruijff Plate).
Forward Kolbeinn Sigthórsson also made his Eredivisie debut with Ajax. Fans had high expectations from the former AZ player. The ‘new’ Ajax for ‘11-‘12 ’s main features were Nicolai Boilesen on left defence once again, and Theo Janssen (captain) as controlling midfielder.
One key Ajax player was missing from the competition opener. Jan Vertonghen wasn’t available due to a groin injury. Daley Blind replaced him in the heart of defence. The Belgian first captain was present as a spectator in De Vijverberg, the cosy home stadium of the ‘Superboeren’. After Maarten Stekelenburg’s definitive departure, Frank de Boer has a new keeper playing with number 1. Kenneth Vermeer’s presence – playing with Ajax 1 with number 1 on his back for the first time – was a very trusted one between the Ajax posts.
After dominating during the starting phase, Ajax’s competition start wasn’t without hitches. After a short series of opportunities for Ajax, Ted van de Pavert put the opponents in the lead. The defender’s hard and clean header went in from a corner. Going down like this was a damper for Ajax, who was suddenly playing a different match. In previous seasons, Ajax had scored easily and often in De Vijverberg. The scores from the last three meetings say it all: 0-6, 1-8 and 0-5.
“That was our weakest phase”, said De Boer, looking back on the period when Ajax gave up the 1-0 goal. “But we reacted quickly and anticipated well after that goal.”
Ajax did away quickly with the home team’s – surprising, given the history – lead. Seven minutes after the opening goal, keeper Joost Terol let a long range shot from Gregory van der Wiel slip, after which Miralem Sulejmani made good on the rebound: 1-1. Sulejmani was also at the root of the 1-2 in the first half. Left winger Boerrigter rounded off on the Serb’s, and Sigthórsson’s work, successfully.
Siem de Jong almost helped Ajax to a third goal in the first half; at least he should have helped. The midfielder shot his penalty (after hands in the box from Rose) onto Terol’s fists, who made up for his earlier mistake. “If you make it 3-1, you feel different in the locker room. And that also goes for De Graafschap”, continued De Boer. “It was an opportunity we didn’t capitalize on”. A week earlier, Theo Janssen had also missed from the penalty kick spot. De Boer: “Siem’s off the list now, too. Micky (Sulejmani) is taking the next penalty.”
The score crept up after the break. With Vurnon Anita in for De Jong, the guests increased their lead within three minutes towards 1-4. After an hour, Christian Eriksen made a beautiful pass to Sulejmani, giving him a free path towards Terol. The forward rounded off successfully again (1-3). Soon after, Janssen struck beautifully from a free kick: 1-4. Thus, a generous Ajax win was posted on the De Graafschap’s scoreboard. “We dominated the second half”, decided De Boer. “We can be happy with 4-1. We didn’t have many problems today and showed what we can do. That’s positive. We also wanted to send a signal today to the other teams. I’m a pretty satisfied coach.”
After the competition opener, a busy week awaits Ajax. Leading up to the first home match of the season (Sunday August 14 against sc Heerenveen), Ajax plays a friendly on Tuesday at Almere City FC. The internationals will play elsewhere due to interland commitments. Therefore, a combination of Ajax 1 and Jong Ajax players will form the team in Almere.
With the win against De Graafschap, champion Ajax has had a good start to the season. The win feels like more. Perhaps even the 31st national title...