Ajax has let the championship slip away on the final day of competition. A bad afternoon at De Graafschap (1-1) was fatal for Ajax. PSV extended their hold on the title with a 1-3 victory against PEC Zwolle.
Ajacieds were lying down on the grass at de Vijverberg, dejected. Disillusioned Ajacieds sought the catacombs. The 1-1 tie with which Ajax ended the 2015- 2016 season plunged the Amsterdam club into a deep mourning. On the final day of competition, the Eindhoven team are the ones who ended the day with the championship trophy in their hands.
Six goals separated leader Ajax from contender PSV. It was a small margin, but one that meant that the Amsterdam team held all of the cards at the start of the 34th round of play. A win would suffice for the 34th championship in the club’s history.
But that’s not what happened on Sunday afternoon in a very warm Doetinchem. De Graafschap is preparing for the post-season. The Doetinchem team needed to pull out all of the stops in order to avoid degradation. On the eve of the unwanted but necessary post-season, the Achterhoek team didn’t hold back against Ajax on this final day of Eredivisie competition.
Younes opens score
Amin Younes put Ajax on the right path after sixteen minutes. Thirty seconds after his goal had been disqualified as offside, the German winger struck again, successfully this time. Younes pivoted the ball beautifully past goalie Hidde Jurjus, to the joy of the many Ajax fans who had made the trip. Cheering was also heard from outside the visitors’ stands. At de Vijverberg, it appeared – and sounded – as though Ajax fans were in every corner.
The Amsterdam team was unable to force a quick 0-2. Right forward Vaclav Cerny missed what was probably Ajax’s biggest opportunity around the thirty-minute mark. On a pass from Arek Milik, the right forward sent his shot high over Jurjus’ goal. This lead was shaky, at best. De Graafschap could still hope for an upset as long as the score was 0-1. This upset took shape ten minutes after halftime. Bryan Smeets shot the ball into the far corner: 1-1. What followed were 40 nail-biting minutes.
Entire team sub-par
“When the score was 1-1, you could see that the guys had clenched fists”, said Joël Veltman, looking back in disillusionment. “If he had scored the 2-0 goal, then De Graafschap would have thought: just forget it, we still need to go to play-offs. We weren’t playing our best for the entire match. The more time passed, the more our faith eroded. The entire team was sub-par today.”
The dream for the title ended up being a nightmare on Sunday afternoon, just before four-thirty. With Anwar El Ghazi in for Milik and Viktor Fischer for Cerny, Ajax still didn’t manage to score that liberating goal. Hidde Jurjus stopped Veltman from scoring. The Jong Oranje international was one of the outstanding players in Jan Vreman’s team.
“This is the low point of my career so far”, continued Veltman in the hot catacombs of de Vijverberg. “In the end, we felt it on the field that after that 1-1 goal was scored, that things wouldn’t turn around for us.”
Nemanja Gudelj also expressed his disappointment to the press. “We had the trophy in our hands…”, said the Serb. “This is a big hit. Playing to a 1-1 tie should never have happened. When that tying goal was scored, we knew that we weren’t in the lead anymore. But we did everything we could to score the 1-2 goal. Looking back, we lost it earlier on in the match. But if we had truly deserved this championship, we would have won this match.”