After an outstanding home game on Thursday evening, Ajax has earned a spot among the last eight teams in the UEFA Europa League. The Amsterdam team made up for its 2-1 loss in Copenhagen by winning, 2-0. Bertrand Traoré and Kasper Dolberg scored the goals.
Ajax’s line-up had changed in several places compared to last week’s game in Copenhagen. Davinson Sánchez and Joël Veltman returned after their suspensions, and Hakim Ziyech was fit again, and was in the starting line-up. Matthijs de Ligt had a starting spot too, and Nick Viergever was shifted to the left side.
Daley Sinkgraven was on the bench and Jairo Riedewald wasn’t in the selection. Some changes had occurred at midfield, too, as Ziyech was playing with Donny van de Beek at his side. The blond midfielder was replacing the suspended Davy Klaassen. The captain’s band went to Veltman. Out in front, everything remained the same as usual, thus with Bertrand Traoré, Kasper Dolberg and Amin Younes. Copenhagen had to play without their suspended captain, Mathias Jorgensen. Moreover, Rasmus Falk, the goal-scorer in Denmark, was injured.
After the first Danish meeting, Peter Bosz had stated his position: “We have the home field advantage, but FC Copenhagen has the advantage of a 2-1 win.” Which one of these things would tip the balance during this five hundredth Ajax game in the Amsterdam ArenA? The stakes were high: a quarter-finals berth.
Early departure Veltman
Ajax started the match aggressively and chased Copenhagen, in all positions, on the field. Bosz had already stated that Ajax could play better football than Copenhagen, and should thus make the difference in that area. The players had internalized this, because it’s with great football that Ajax sought out Copenhagen’s weaknesses. Veltman’s early departure was a disappointment. He was forced off the field with a glute injury, and was replaced by Kenny Tete.
Shortly after that, Ajax celebrated scoring a critical goal. It wasn’t just the goal itself, but the way in which it happened, that were fantastic. Combining from their own box, the ball landed with Amin Younes after much passing. The swift left winger outplayed his opponents, went towards the inside and fired a shot. Olsen didn’t manage to control the shot and Bertrand Traoré, who had been jeered by the fans on Sunday, scored with a header in the 23rd minute, giving Ajax a 1-0 lead. Ajax would already qualify for the quarter-finals with this score, but seventy minutes still remained on the clock.
Ajax increased its margin before the break. Kasper Dolberg was mercilessly hauled down in the Danish penalty kick area, and he then did something that normally isn’t done according to the football rules: he took his own penalty shot. But the young striker – still very green in terms of penalty kicks – coolly made good, bringing Ajax to a 2-0 lead. Everyone could breathe a bit more easily. Now, should a goal be scored against them, it wouldn’t all automatically be over.
But why should Ajax be unable to continue this way in the second half? The team was playing to their fans. Wouldn’t that give them a boost? It most certainly did, but Ajax didn’t manage to put the ball into the goal. Bertrand Traoré, by all rights, should have scored after a beautiful attack via the outstanding Matthijs de Ligt. Hakim Ziyech was unfortunate in his finish and Kasper Dolberg sent a shot on a pass from the hard-working Viergever onto the post. Ajax thus came close to the liberating 3-0 goal several times, but to no avail.
With Frenkie de Jong in for the exhausted Van de Beek, and Justin Kluivert for Traoré, Ajax attempted to bring the game home into a safe haven. In the final minutes, it was Copenhagen via Cornelius that came dangerously close to scoring. But Ajax also had some opportunities in the final phase. Dolberg once again seemed poised to score the third goal, but this time he found Olsen in his way. The home team kept pushing and drove the crowd wild with their feats (Kluivert’s passing actions). Copenhagen sent its keeper into the field, and Ajax could counter. The Danish team remained alive for the sizzling final minutes. Under the leadership of De Ligt, Ajax held its ground. A quarterfinals berth was in the bag!