Two sides of Ajax in Tilburg

Two sides of Ajax in Tilburg

Ajax won 1-3 on Sunday against Willem II, who are at the bottom of the league. Coach Frank de Boer’s squad went into half time trailing 1-0. It wasn’t until the second half that Ajax got up to steam and then Siem de Jong, Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen scored three goals in succession. Willem II was one man down the last fifteen minutes of the match, after substitute Halilovic was shown the red card.

The statistics from prior matches against the Tricolores were greatly in Ajax’ favour. After 73 encounters with Willem II in the Eredivisie, Ajax has lost seven, drawn five and won no less that 61. The home game against Willem II in September of this season was also won by Ajax, thanks to two goals by former Ajax player Luis Suarez. Still, it took Ajax a long time on Sunday to secure their 62nd victory over Willem II. Ajax came out of a messy afternoon unscathed.

Ajax began the league match against Willem II with an adjustment to the familiar team. Jeroen Verhoeven started on goal for Ajax. The keeper from Naarden will exhibit his talents on goal quite a few times over the coming weeks, as Maarten Stekelenburg will be out of the running for quite a while. Ajax’ team captain broke his right thumb during practice on Saturday , leaving him unable to play for four to six weeks. Prior to the game against Willem II, Verhoeven had only ever played one league match. In October he defended the Ajax goal against Excelsior (2-2) for thirty minutes, in which time he made some very fine saves.

The Willem II mascot waved his arms as ACDC’s hit song Thunderstrike was played, warming up the crowd for the match. And Willem II certainly did strike like thunder in the first half. Gert Heerkes’ team surprised one and all by going all out on the offence. Willem II opened fire through Maceo Rigters. He shot a belter at Ajax’ goal from a great distance. Verhoeven immediately displayed his talents by deflecting the shot to the right in a cat like manner. The ensuing headers by Bart Biemans and Jan-Arie van der Heijden, on loan from Ajax, went wide.

Ajax didin’t get going until several minutes later. Miralem Sulejmani tried to wake up keeper Vladan Kujovic with a slow shot on Willem II’s goal. Christian Eriksen also took a shot after Giovanni Gravenbeek and Ricardo Ippel lost possession of the ball due to miscommunication. The Dane grabbed his chance and shot the ball straight into the hands of Kujovic. But all this didn’t lead up to any properly played out opportunities by Ajax.

And then it was Willem II who took the lead after twenty minutes. After Verhoeven had sloppily punched away a shot by Juha Hakola, Rangelo Janga took advantage of an inattentive Toby Alderweireld and went around Verhoeven: 1-0. After that Willem II was constantly on the lookout for another goal, but they didn’t manage to score again.

At the start of the second half De Boer substituted Demy de Zeeuw and Lorenzo Ebecilio, who has been suspended for the next match, with Dario Cvitanich and Aras Özbiliz. With and increasingly attacking team it was essential for Ajax to score the equaliser as quickly as possible. And they did. In the first minute of the second half Siem de Jong scored the equaliser after Özbiliz let him run off the ball. Shortly after the goal the Armenian right winger cleverly positioned himself open to receive and gave Sulejmani an excellent crossing pass. The Serb hit the bar from the left. From the resulting corner De Jong headed the ball into the hands of the Willem II goalkeeper. Ajax was far more dangerous in the first five minutes after half time, than in the entire first half.

When Denis Halilovic replaced Hakola in the sixtieth minute the Tilburg offence came to a halt and they went on the defence. Halilovich wasn’t on the pitch for long, though. He was sent off with a red card after a hard tackle on Vertonghen. Ajax’ acting team captain played an important part in the match again, ten minutes before time. With a belter of a long distance shot the Belgian put Ajax into the lead for the first time: 1-2. Ajax’ third goal followed shortly after. After a pass by Sulejmani, Eriksen moved rapidly forward and shot the ball past Willem II’s keeper: 1-3.

It certainly wasn’t an easy win for Ajax, Ajax manager Frank de Boer agreed. ,,Today we saw two sides of Ajax. The first half our performance was poor and soft. Willem II was much sharper and more aggressive. I’m glad the score was a ‘mere’ 1-0 in the first half and that we could make amends in the second half. After half time we performed better in four minutes than we had in the entire first half.”

De Boer is satisfied with Verhoeven’s performance, despite the messy first goal by Willem II. ,,Verhoeven began a little uneasy, but that’s understandable. All of a sudden he’s first keeper and he may be for the next four to six weeks. That goal was bad, but he knows that. Jeroen picked himself up after that. He performed well the rest of the match and we are happy with him.”