Ajax made a promising start on the European stage on Wednesday evening. In the very first game in the Johan Cruijff ArenA, Sturm Graz was defeated 2-0 thanks to goals by Hakim Ziyech and Lasse Schöne.
The Amsterdam team put itself in a prime position for next week’s return in Austria, during which the 3rd qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League could be reached. The 2 new acquisitions, Dusan Tadic and Daley Blind made their debut as substitutes.
Starting spot Eiting, free role Ziyech
Ajax kicked off its European adventure without Blind or Tadic in the starting line up, as the players joined the selection in the final stages of preparation. This resulted in a starting spot for Carel Eiting. Ziyech, in the front line, had a more free role.
Ziyech was the first half’s star player. The left-footer took his team by the hand, treated the crowd to some beautiful football, and opened the score. Ziyech cleverly freed himself up in the 15th minute and pulled the trigger with his right foot. The shot, which seemed at first to be manageable, was too powerful for keeper Jörg Siebenhandl: 1-0.
The lead was well-earned, as Ajax was in control against the defensive Sturm Graz. The Austrians gambled on a counter and danger created by standard situations. This last case led to a dangerous moment in front of Andre Onana, but not to a goal.
Hunter hits the post
Ajax played comfortably and created opportunities this way, but this didn’t lead to any additional goals prior to halftime. Klaas Jan Huntelaar hit the post with a long-distance shot, while a pass from the same player couldn’t be converted by David Neres.
The 55th minute turned out to be crucial for the rest of the match. First, Sturm Graz had a big opportunity, after a quick counter. Fabian Koch failed to pull the trigger. This ended up being a costly mistake, especially when Koch grabbed David Neres on the opposite side of the field. The referee awarded a penalty.
Schöne took his spot behind the ball and initially saw his shot get turned away by Siebenhandl. The rebound landed right at his alert feet and the 2-0 was in the books.
Debut Tadic and Sierhuis, return Blind
Ajax was in a comfortable position, to the delight of the fans. The crowd’s cheering was deafening later when first, Tadic took to the field, and 6 minutes before time Blind followed suit. Kaj Sierhuis made his debut right before the end as well.
It was a great night, which could have been even better if a 3rd goal had been scored, but, despite opportunities for Huntelaar (3) and Ziyech, it wasn’t.