Ajax has started its new Champions League adventure with a loss. Despite a disappointing result in Dortmund, Ajax made a good impression in the first round of play in group D. After it seemed like they were heading for a tied game for a long time, a German goal proved fatal in the closing minutes: 1-0. Kenneth Vermeer stopped a penalty kick from the home team after the break.
Frank de Boer wanted attacking and resourceful football, and the Ajax coach received resourceful and immaculate football. Days before the first European meeting of this season, De Boer dictated his wish list in terms of football and playing style. This didn’t fall on deaf ears. On Tuesday, Ajax played according to the trusted Ajax formula, meaning with attacking, immaculate and resourceful football.
“Still, after a match like that, you have mixed feelings”, said De Boer during the press conference afterwards. "You’re so close to a well-deserved point. There were moments when there was more, and moments when there was less. But when you are there with empty hands at three minutes before the end, it’s disappointing.”
Centre forward Ryan Babel was an accessible point of play. The Ajax player, who returned to the club where he grew up on Saturday against RKC (2-0), seemed to be everywhere against Borussia Dortmund. The same goes for Christian Poulsen, who made his debut in an Ajax shirt last Saturday. The 32 year old Dane set the pace and made himself into a true defending post. In addition to experience and tactical insight, Poulsen also contributed aggressive ball play to Ajax’s game. In a short time, the controller seems to have turned himself into a key player in Ajax’s midfield. “Poulsen brought a certain calmness to our game”, said De Boer. “He played incredibly. Ryan also had a terrific game.”
Ajax set the tone of the game for long stretches at a time. The Amsterdam team’s brisk playing resulted in a big opportunity for Christian Eriksen at twelve minutes. After Babel had won the ball from the sloppy Illkay Gündogan, the young Dane had the time and the space to test keeper Roman Weidenfeller. But Eriksen’s shot went wide. At that moment, nobody knew how many more chances Ajax would get against the German master. But a true cornucopia of opportunities unfolded in the football temple which is still known at Westfalenstadion. Until the last minutes, Ajax wasn’t fazed by the sometimes venomous counters from the Germans. Kenneth Vermeer showed his class with a beautiful save after an attempt from defender Marcel Schmelzer.
The lions’ share of the German attacks was foiled by (mostly) Toby Alderweireld and Niklas Moisander. Ajax’s central duo also made a mark on the match. The fact that defense received assistance a few times from Ryan Babel was mostly illustrative of the centre forward’s unbridled work ethic. Afterwards, De Boer also expressed his pleasure with Moisander: “He was really one of the best on the field, in terms of his plays, and in other areas, too. We can definitely build on this.”
Equally illustrative of the match’s atmosphere was the severe jeering that the home team’s players received from the crowd midway. With 56 per cent, Ajax had by far the most ball possession in the first half. That didn’t sit well with the North German fans. It was a boost for Ajax.
In the sold out Signal Iduna Park – which has been the stadium’s commercial name since 2005 – a very lively match unfolded. It was a great match for both Vermeer and Weidenfeller. The keepers gave it their all each time the direction of play changed, which was frequently. Three minutes after the break, Siem de Jong took a free shot in the box after an Eriksen corner. The attempt deflected via a German limb and went completely wide. Not too much later, centre forward Robert Lewandowski seemed poised to open the score. The centre forward took out three Ajax players, but his hasty shot went over. Marco Reus also got to know Vermeer’s reflexes. The Ajax player stood out when Borussia were given a penalty shot. Van Rhijn received a yellow card and a penalty kick against, a punishment much too severe for his block of Götze. Vermeer crowned his incredible performance by blocking Mats Hummels’ penalty. This save served as justice for the overly severe punishment given by referee Paolo Tagliavento, who otherwise had a good game.
After 87 enjoyable minutes of football, things went south for Ajax. Robert Lewandowsky pulled the trigger: 1-0. Ajax thus ended its first Champions League match empty-handed. Group D, which the Germans have nicknamed Gruppe des Wahnsinn, saw Real Madrid win as well. The Madrid team defeated Manchester City 3-2. After the first European round of play, no scenario in the Champions League is too farfetched for Group D. “If there’s anything to fault us on, it’s that we weren’t cool enough when we had opportunities”, said De Boer. “But besides the things that didn’t go well, many things did. We’ll take that with us, for example to next Sunday’s match at ADO Den Haag at 12:30.”
Keep watching Ajax TV for a summary of Borussia Dortmund – Ajax, and reactions afterwards.