Elimination from the ABN AMRO Future Cup was close at hand on Sunday. Ajax’s U17s seemed to be hanging on by a thread. But things ended well. Thanks to Sven Botman’s header goal, elimination was avoided. Ajax lost its group match to Arsenal 1-2, but that was just enough to stay ahead of Ghana’s Right to Dream thanks to a higher goal balance.
You don’t often see cheering like this for a goal like that one. But it happened on Sunday during Ajax’s final group match. Botman’s goal was critical. “This was very important”, admitted the defender. “During the match, we could see that everyone was thinking about the goal balance. We were getting more and more nervous and were just hoping that we would not get eliminated.”
After a draw against Right to Dream and a win against Red Bull Salzburg, Ajax was in second place in pool A with four points. Arsenal, with two victories, was assured of a spot in the semi-finals.
At the outset, Right to Dream had a small chance of reaching the semis. The Ghanaian team needed to defeat Salzburg and hope for Ajax to lose to Arsenal. Both of these things happened, but in the end, it wasn’t enough. In the closing minutes, Right to Dream missed a golden opportunity. It turned out to be very costly for them.
At the start of Ajax – Arsenal, it was a waiting game. Neither team got many good opportunities. After fifteen minutes of playing, it was Ajax midfielder Noa Lang who created the greatest danger in the match, but his shot sailed over. Not one minute later, centre forward Martijn Kaars came face to face with the London keeper but his attempt went wide. As the match progressed, Arsenal increasingly gained the upper hand.
Five minutes before halftime, Emile Smith Rowe put Arsenal into a 1-0 lead. He passed Ajax keeper Nigel Bouman neatly. In the meantime, the speaker announced the halftime score of the other match: Red Bull Salzburg - Right to Dream stood at 0-2. The tension was palpable.
After the break, Frank Peereboom brought in three fresh players. Juan Familia Castillo, Francesco Antonucci en Daishawn Redan were charged with ensuring that the Amsterdam team would become more threatening. But the opposite happened when Xavier Amaecchi scored the 0-2 goal for Arsenal with a fantastic curve ball into the far corner, leaving Bouman without a hope.
On the other field, Right to Dream was up by 1-4. This meant that Ajax needed to score in order to progress to the next round. A shower of opportunities followed, and the biggest one was for Redan. The centre forward’s shot went high.
One minute before time, substitute Sven Botman brought the crowd to its feet. A sharp corner by Antonucci was sent into the goal on a header by the tall defender. To the home crowd’s great relief, a spot in the semi-finals was assured.
“It’s our duty to reach the finals”, said Botman. “This was not our best game. We were better against Salzburg, although that wasn’t the highest level we can reach, either. Hopefully we can show that starting tomorrow.”
On Monday morning, Ajax meets title holder Anderlecht. The semi-final game starts at 10:00. The other semi-final will be between Arsenal and FC Barcelona, starting at 11:30. Both games will be broadcast live on Ziggo Sports (channel 14). The finals are scheduled at 15:00.
Score summary: 24. Smith Rowe 1-0, 34. Amaechi 2-0, 59. Botman 2-1
Line-up Ajax U17: Bouman, Ter Heide (30. Familia Castillo), Hoogenhout, Bakker (45. Botman), Kramer, Lang, Van der Linde (38. Ekkelenkamp), El Azrak (30. Redan), Nunnely, Kaars, Lopez (30. Antonucci).