Ajax fought will all its might in Fenerbahçe’s Sücrü Saracoglu Stadyumu. A header by Fernandao was fatal for the Amsterdam team in, literally, the last minute: 1-0. Ajax still has a lot of work to do in pool A of the UEFA Europa League.
On the day when Johan Cruijff’s healt problems became worldwide news, Ajax could only show support and empathy, and send him sincere and hopeful wishes, and then turn their focus back to Fenerbahçe. After two draws in group A (against Celtic and Molde), winning was critical for the Ajacieds. But that wouldn’t be a simple task in the turbulent Sücrü Saracoglu Stadyumu.
On the eve of the match in the Turkish metropolis, Frank de Boer had announced his starting eleven. Nine of the eleven Ajacieds had also had played in Saturday’s 2-0 competition win against Heracles. In Istanbul, Jasper Cillessen returned to the goal after a short injury. Right back Ricardo van Rhijn took over from Kenny Tete. This last wasn’t passed over due to his performance. Tete’s burgeoning talent is being handled with care. After playing a heavy load of Eredivisie matches and Dutch national team games, the young defender was given some rest. In the absence of the injured Arek Milik and Yaya Sanogo, Anwar El Ghazi started off as centre forward.
Enjoy the cauldron
The experienced De Boer had advised his young team to enjoy the atmosphere in the Turkish football temple. The charged football air, the jeering from the Turkish fans; all of this was meant to bring out the best in Ajax. The negativity must be used in a positive and motivational way. As a former player for Galatasaray (2003-2004), the Ajax coach had experienced the Turkish football atmosphere first-hand.
The confidence that Ajax had filled up on in Almelo came in handy leading up to the first official meeting against a Turkish opponent since 1993. For the Ajax team from back then, which included Louis van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard, the opponent was Besiktas. Ajax and Fenerbahçe had only met once prior to this season in a official match, in 1968. Rinus Michels’ Ajacieds beat the Turkish team both in the home and away games, 2-0. But unfortunately this feat wouldn’t be repeated in 2015.
Best opportunities for Fenerbahçe
In the first 45 minutes, the opportunities were mostly Fenerbahçe’s. Jasper Cillessen was called to action a bit too often for comfort. The Ajax goalie demonstrated his caliber once again with several amazing saves. The Groesbeek native had, among others, an answer to a venomous attempt by Fenerbahçe centre forward Robin van Persie. The 101-time Dutch international was also the Turkish team’s Dutch hope. The Rotterdam native employed by the Turkish team sent his header over the goal.
Defender Simon Kjaer’s header met the same fate. Earlier on, Lazar Markovic also had seen his shot disappear over the visitors’ goal. These visitors didn’t get much further than a loose cannon by Davy Klaassen and long distance shots from Lasse Schöne and Nemanja Gudelj (over) in the first half. The fact that Ajax remained unscathed and kept their cool in this Turkish hell was a feat in itself.
In the second half, Riechedly Bazoer put an end to the fifteen-minute long drought of opportunities. The midfielder’s shot disappeared into the hands of keeper Fabiano. Two minutes later, Schöne’s header on his own goal line was a critical save. Kenny Tete had come in ‘fresh’ to replace Van Rhijn. Amin Younes had relieved the fairly invisible Viktor Fischer. In the final minutes, Daley Sinkgraven came in for the exhausted El Ghazi.
It wasn’t only El Ghazi who seemed exhausted; several Ajacieds seemed to have lost most of their energy in the final minutes. Lines moved further apart. On Fenerbahçe’s side, the best seemed to have seeped away from their game in the last fifteen minute as well. Unfortunately for the Amsterdam team, Fabiano had a response to Klaassen’s treacherous shot on goal. It was boxed away.
This match seemed destined to end in a scoreless tie. But in the 89th minute, things went sour for Ajax. From a corner, substitute Fernandao sent a header via the unfortunate Klaassen’s head into the goal at the last minute. It was the start of a genuine Turkish bacchanal. After the 686 Ajax fans who had made the trip had been thanked for their support, the Ajax players retreated, disappointed, shortly before midnight.
Score summary: 89. Fernandao 1-0
Ajax: Cillessen, Van Rhijn (63. Tete), Veltman, Riedewald, Dijks, Bazoer, Klaassen, Gudelj, Schone, El Ghazi (77. Sinkgraven), Fischer (63. Younes).
Substitutes: Boer, Van der Hoorn, Heitinga, Viergever