Ajax played to a tie in Friesland, in a match that was outrageous at times. After a 2-1 halftime score in Heerenveen’s favor, the Amsterdam team pulled even right after the break, only to see goal scorer Thulani Serero sent off with a red card. After that, Frank de Boer’s team was in survival mode, and the young team succeeded narrowly: 2-2.
For Ajax, there was no normal lead up to the game on Sunday. Due to a defect on the Ketelbrug bridge, Ajax arrived at the Abe Lenstra Stadium almost one hour later than planned. Referee Pol van Boekel decided to delay the start time by fifteen minutes, to 4:45p.m.
Before this round of play, sc Heerenveen was in the odd position of having more points than goals: two to one. In contrast, Ajax has proven to be a true scoring machine in its first three matches, with 13 goals, with Tobias Sana and Siem de Jong each scoring three. Ajax stayed on the offense against sc Heerenveen, with Derk Boerrigter as the third forward in the line. The left winger started for the first time since his recovery from a back injury. Also new was Ilan Boccara, who was on the bench and not on the field at the start. The 19 year old Dutch youth international came to Ajax on July 20th.
A chaotic first half, in which Ajax had the best of the game, unraveled before his eyes. However, Heerenveen had a good opportunity to take the lead in the fifth minute after a bad pass by Christian Eriksen. They didn’t make good on that chance and this seemed to be an omen for things to come in the rest of the first half, during which a true festival of mistakes played itself out before the sold out stands in Friesland. In the eleventh minute, Alderweireld ticked Eriksen’s free kick just high, but two minutes later, Ajax took its well-deserved lead when Thulani Serero scored the opening goal, via El-Akchaouide.
Two minutes later, it was the South African Ajax player who had the chance to increase the margin, as he charged towards keeper Nordfeldt alone. Serero’s shot hit the post and Siem de Jong was much too kind to the team of his former coach, Marco van Basten, on the rebound, and Nordfeldt made the save. With former Ajax player Daniël de Ridder playing the fanatical hunter, Heerenveen came out of its shell, but there was still too little consistency in the game.
The Fries club was given a helping hand when referee Pol van Boekel put the pall on the spot, after Alderweireld had gotten a ball in the face. The referee determined that the Belgian had interfered with the ball with his hand; penalty. Filip Djuricic didn’t make good on the opportunity; his shot went wide. After that, Heerenveen had a handful of chances thanks to Ajax’s sloppiness, but they remained unconverted. Ajax should have increased its lead during this time, but after De Jong shot onto the post and Boerrigter didn’t make good on the opportunity of a lifetime, Heerenveen struck gold immediately. From the Fries half, Van Rhijn played back badly onto Vermeer badly, and the keeper had a hard time controlling the ball. The new Heerenveen forward Alfred Finnbogason scored the tying goal, 1-1. On the other side, Ajax had had two excellent opportunities to take the lead, but after a scrimmage during which the ball nearly landed in the Heerenveen goal three times and Van Rhijn shot wide, it was Heerenveen who was in the lead at half time. Finnbogason was once again the one who scored: 2-1.
As odd as the first half was, in terms of mistakes and opportunities, the second half was even stranger, if possible. It started well for Ajax when Serero calmly scored the tying goal, 2-2. But, five minutes later, as he should have been scoring again, he didn’t manage to. To make matters worse, not even one minute after his missed opportunity, he made a fierce tackle from behind, which earned him a red card from Van Boekel. So instead of nursing a lead, the Amsterdam team was forced to continue with ten men. For the third time in this competition, Heerenveen was playing with a one man advantage, but once again, they didn’t score again.
Fifteen minutes before time, Frank de Boer made this third substitution (after Boerrigter was replaced by Jody Lukoki, and Dijks by Daley Blind). 19 year old Ilan Boccara was brought in for the battle weary Schöne. Although the midfielder made his presence known immediately – he was convincing and feisty in duels – even he couldn’t stop Heerenveen from getting a battalion of opportunities. Until the final whistle, the match in Friesland was extremely exciting: Siem de Jong took two penalty kicks and Vermeer made several great saves. Despite many thrilling moments in front of the goals, there was no more scoring, and the game ended at 2-2. “Considering the end of the game, we should be happy with one point, but we gave away far too many opportunities”, admitted De Boer afterwards. “Every time we had a good chance, Heerenveen came right back with a big opportunity, too. For the impartial spectator it must have been a spectacular match, sometimes wild, but we need to be tougher and we need to win the duels around the box. Now we lost possession too often, and that wasn’t necessary.”