On Sunday afternoon, Ajax missed its opportunity to take advantage of PSV’s loss of points from the previous day. Ajax didn’t make it past 2-2 at home against NEC, failing to take first place in the Eredevisie rankings from the Eindhoven team. Ajax thus remains at a disadvantage going into next week’s top match against PSV.
The queues at the stadium box offices on Sunday afternoon told the story. Football lovers are excited for this final phase of the competition. The fact that PSV had unexpectedly squandered two points at home – one week before the potentially crucial top match – had made the Ajax fans euphoric. But they also knew that Ajax first needed to beat NEC in order to travel to competitor PSV’s home turf next week as the Eredivisie leader.
The Eindhoven team discovered just how dangerous it was to look ahead prematurely to next weekend. The warning for the Ajacieds, who was last to play in this 27th round, was crystal clear. The last time that PSV had lost points on a Saturday evening in the Eredivisie was on December 12. At that time, Ajax also failed to take advantage of the situation the following day. They lost 1-0 to FC Utrecht.
Frank de Boer went with the same eleven players as he had for last week’s kick-off against Willem II. So Anwar El Ghazi, who returned to the eighteen player selection after his one-game suspension, didn’t make the cut. But Lasse Schöne, who could look forward to meeting his former club, NEC, did. It was also a reunion for Jasper Cillessen with his former club.
The Danish Ajacied showed his enthusiasm right from the start. He sprinkled the game with Zidame pirouettes and heel balls. One of those reached Davy Klaassen in the fifteenth minute, but the captain didn’t get enough power behind his shot. Four minutes later, the opening goal was scored. Arek Milik’s shot bounced off the keeper at first, but following that, he chipped the ball beautifully into the ropes: 1-0.
The crowd was immediately seized with championship fever. But this joy was extinguished four minutes later. Navarone Foor was free as a bird and shot between Mike van der Hoorn’s legs into an unreachable corner: 1-1. The crowd’s disappointment was big, but Ajax wasn’t deterred. The beautiful passes kept on coming, but the final push was always lacking in the finish. This was the case one minute before halftime. Younes made a good pass but Schöne kicked the ball over. It would have been the perfect moment to deal a painful blow to NEC.
So the hopes were hinged on the second half. Milik seemed poised to make dreams come true when he almost sent in a pass from Dijks in the 47th minute. Four minutes later, it did happen. Younes made a good pass and Rens van Eijden scored on his own keeper, 2-1. It was the third time in his career that former PSV player Van Eijden scored into his own goal against Ajax. But Ajax was unable to increase its lead, and the lurking Nijmegen team was able to keep the faith.
Ajax called disaster onto itself. Eight minutes before time, things went south. A lightning quick transition by NEC brought the ball in front of the goal. Santos won the header duel with Van der Hoorn, 2-2. An exciting closing phase followed, in which Ajax came on with fresh reinforcements El Ghazi and Fischer, who sought another goal and first place. But it didn’t work, and now Ajax needs to win next week’s top match against PSV in order to take over first place, and the chance to win the title.