The Feyenoord – Ajax cup match on Wednesday proved exciting from start to finish, but ended on a distinctly sour note. Ajax dominated for at least one half in the sold-out Kuip. After 94 minutes of play, an own goal by Joël Veltman was fatal for Ajax. Ajax is thus eliminated from the cup tournament.
The two top ranked Eredivisie teams met in KNVB Cup tournament play. The top clubs, and arch rivals, have not had much to complain about yet this season in terms of their performances. The Rotterdam team, led by club hero Dirk Kuyt, feels strong enough to win its first national championship since 1999. In that light, this Classic cup match would be a good measure for the club.
However, the Rotterdam team couldn’t draw much confidence from past statistics. Feyenoord has won only one of the last 23 Classics. The statistics relating to the cup tournament provided more optimism to the Rotterdam team. Feyenoord and Ajax have played each other fifteen times in the national cup tournament and Feyenoord has won seven times.
Changes in line-up
Frank de Boer’s starting line-up had been changed in several spots compared to the eleven who had started against Vitesse. The North Holland native gave his cup keeper Diederik Boer a starting spot in de Kuip, as usual in cup games. Jairo Riedwald wasn’t in the selection, and Mike van der Hoorn replaced the new international in the defensive heart. Daley Sinkgraven replaced the injured Davy Klaassen at central midfield. Arek Milik returned to the match selection after having recovered from his abdominal injury, as did Anwar El Ghazi (ill on Sunday) but both started the game on the bench. Viktor Fischer was Ajax’s starting centre forward.
Three days after the confidence-inspiring win against Vitesse (1-3), Ajax started off strong against Feyenoord. But one key thing was missing in the dominant Ajax play: the team set the pace of the game, but failed to pull the trigger. Viktor Fischer had the greatest opportunity after half an hour. The Danish centre forward came eye to eye with former Ajacied and current Feyenoord keeper Kenneth Vermeer. The former Ajacied had the last word. That was the Amsterdam team’s biggest opportunity in the first half to take the lead.
Difference in strength
In the opening minutes, Vermeer had also been one step ahead of Fischer. Left forward Amin Younes (wide) and Sinkgraven (long) also had had the opening goal at their feet in the first half. But the confident and solid Ajax was unable to express their upper hand in the score. Feyenoord counted their blessings with the 0-0 halftime score.
As players, Frank de Boer and Giovanni van Bronckhorst have both won the national ‘pinecone’, as the cup has been called by Feyenoord icon Wim van Hanegem. As trainers, ‘Gio’ and De Boer have not yet had concrete cup success. With just one loss in ten Classics as a coach, De Boer had impressive Feyenoord results under his belt. Based on the one-sided first half in de Kuip, the Ajax coach seemingly could count on yet another victory in Rotterdam.
After the break, Feyenoord made itself felt more strongly in the match. This time, the scoring opportunities belonged to Michiel Kramer (shot over) and ex-Ajacied Jan Arie van der Heijden (header wide). Midfielder Simon Gustafson had the greatest opportunity. The Swedish Feyenoord revelation was free to make the play, but was too sloppy in his execution. Boer stood his ground perfectly. The goalie showed his reliability. Disappointingly for Boer, he got injured fifteen minutes before the end of regular time. A painful left calf forced him to the sidelines. Jasper Cillessen thus earned some KNVB Cup playing time.
Shortly before Boer left, Ajax almost made something happen via Sinkgraven. The midfielder had all of the necessary time and room to score. But the Ajacied saw his shot disappear over the goal. This Classic remained both exciting and scoreless.
In extra time, the Ajax ship capsized, however. In the last minute of extra time, Joël Veltman was the last player to touch the ball after a free kick from Feyenoord player Karim El Ahmadi. This had fatal consequences. Via Veltman, the ball landed in the Ajax goal: 1-0. The cup season thus ended for Ajax in the third round of the KNVB Cup tournament.