Ajax was unable to end the 2016-2017 season with a prize. In Stockholm, the Amsterdam team lost the UEFA Europa League final to Manchester United, 2-0, on Wednesday night. Coach Peter Bosz’s first, and very memorable, season ended on a sad note. Despite this disappointment, however, there are many reasons to be proud.
22 years after Ajax’s win in the UEFA Champions League (1995) and a quarter-century after the UEFA Cup triumph of 1992, the newest generation of Ajacieds was unable to make new club history.
Record for De Ligt
The final evening started off with a record-setting. Matthijs de Ligt, with his starting spot, was the youngest player ever to play in a European final. The Ajacied’s age on this memorable May evening was 17 years and 285 days. His record was perfectly aligned with Ajax’s philosophy of raising good players; the important thing is football quality, not age.
It was an enthralling stride in the sold-out Friends Arena; how could it be otherwise for a European final, the first for Ajax in 21 years? In the hyper-modern stadium, counting 50.000 seats, there was a fantastic football atmosphere. Prior to the game, the question was whether Ajax would be able to get into their own game. Otherwise said, would the Amsterdam team be able to achieve the level of play they showed against Copenhagen, Schalke 04 and Olympique Lyon? Only a top-form Ajax seemed to have the potential for European victory.
Despite the enthralling and motivating football ambiance, Ajax experienced a poor start to its 56th and last match of the season. In the first half, the Amsterdam team stumbled on the English defensive block several times, with Daley Blind playing impeccably as the central defender. Manchester United didn’t play a grand game, but definitely seemed more comfortable in the final.
The way in which the Mancunians took the lead in the 18th minute was lucky for them. A Paul Pogba shot deflected off Davinson Sánchez, unfortunately changing direction, and sending André Onana onto the wrong side. He had no chance to make the save: 0-1.
Before halftime, Ajax had only one good opportunity; a shot by Bertrand Traoré met its end on former AZ goalie Sergio Romero’s fists. In the opening phase, Marouane Fellaini was able to open the score for José Mourinho. The Belgian was in a good position – right in front of Onana – right under the ball. Shortly after Pogba’s opening goal, the Ajax goalie prevented more damage. The Cameroon native turned away United captain Antonio Valencia’s shot.
Of the 10.000 Ajacieds who had bought tickets to the historic game, Nick Viergever’s heart was most likely the jumpiest one. The defender, due to his suspension, watched the game in Stockholm. As Daley Sinkgraven couldn’t play, Jairo Riedewald started on left back.
Three minutes into the second half, things went sour again for Ajax, officially the home team. Henrikh Mkhitaryan struck at close range (0-2), after the Amsterdam team had failed to clear the ball. The Armenian scored with a semi-overhead kick, after a corner from Juan Matta. The Ajacieds faced the task of repairing the damage within 40 minutes.
This appeared to be too great a task for Bosz’s young team. Manchester United was more consistent throughout the Swedish evening, and at some points, simply more aggressive than the Amsterdam team.
Knife to the throat
With David Neres as a fresh reinforcement (substitute for Kasper Dolberg, and Traoré took over centre forward), Ajax didn’t manage to put the knife to the English team’s throat. Substitutes Donny van de Beek (for Lasse Schöne) and Frenkie de Jong (Riedewald) were also unable to turn the game around.
So, the first football year under Peter Bosz ended on a sour note. Despite the loss in the final, and the lack of prizes, Ajax can be proud. Exactly 14 months after the passing of Johan Cruijff, the greatest Ajacied of all time, reaching a European final was an incredible achievement.