Coach Frank de Boer and midfielder Nemanja Gudelj sat down in FK Jablonec’s Střelnice Stadium for the customary press conference on the eve of a European match. “We realize how important this match is”, said both Ajacieds, firmly in agreement.
Earlier that day, master analyst Tonnie Bruins Slot drew a comparison between the venue for the upcoming match with De Koel in Venlo. There’s no stand behind one goal. This is a strange sensation for a keeper, and he will be in two completely different environments.
During the press conference, the surroundings were discussed. Especially the fact that Ajax has previously played in the Champions League, and the facilities were somewhat different than the six-thousand capacity Jablonec stadium. De Boer: “The facilities are beside the point. Of course it’s fun to play in big stadiums like San Siro. But if this stadium is full, it will be very lively, too. There is no question of underestimating our opponent and the players are just as energized as they would be in any other environment.”
The fact is that De Boer and his players are very well aware of what is important on Thursay evening. “We need to make sure we get through. That is of critical importance for Dutch football and for our talented players. They learn from playing matches against other cultures. That makes you better. They need to stay in that environment. If we can’t do that this year, they won’t develop this year.”
Pressure up front
With a 1-0 win in the pocket, Ajax, who will play in the same formation as during the past couple of weeks, has an advantage. If they don’t suffer a goal against, the ticket for the group phase is in the bag. “We’re going to play our own game, putting pressure towards the front, so that they can’t get into their game”, said the coach hopefully beforehand. “I don’t think that Jablonec will play with full offensive power, but they just may do that in the second half. We gave away too many opportunities in our home game against Jablonec, and created too few. That improved last weekend against NEC. We defended better in that match, and we had more opportunities. Jablonec is a stiff team, but we, as Ajax, should be able to beat them. That’s so very important.”
Nemanja Gudelj supports his coach’s words: “This match is important for us, but I see each match that way. I try to give everything in training and to motivate everyone else to do the same. I don’t want to talk about how we’ll feel if we don’t make it to the Europa League group phase. I have complete confidence that we’ll win and go through.”