Ten Ajacieds held their own against Legia Warsaw in the first match of the UEFA Europa League’s round of thirty-two. After Kenny Tete’s red card (2 yellows) in the final minutes of the compelling duel, a scoreless tie was the best they could do. Ajax and Legia will play for a spot in the round of sixteen in the return match next week in the ArenA.
In this first match, Ajax was forced to do without Joël Veltman, who was too ill to play. Kenny Tete filled in for him. Besides Veltman, Peter Bosz selected the exact same Ajacieds who played on Sunday against Sparta. With an eye on the return match (next week) in the sold-out ArenA, both clubs were determined to not lose.
The first match in this round of play started in controversy. In the eighth minute, keeper Arkadiusz Malarz saved a shot by Davy Klaassen from what appeared to be right over the goal line. Television footage showed the goalie plucking the ball from well behind the line. Ajax was clearly robbed of a clean opening goal.
After that, the Amsterdam team saw how Andre Onana came out strong against Polish danger. It was especially Vadis Odjidja who was a handful in the lively Wojska Polskiego stadium. The stadium had been home to an crowdless match two years ago between these same teams, at the very first edition of Legia Warsaw-Ajax. Despite the uninspiring setting, Ajax won that game by 0-3.but with totally packs stands which included 700 Ajax fans who had made the trip, this evening’s atmosphere was much better.
After a shaky phase which included too much loss of possession, Ajax seemed to get a better grip on the game ten minutes before halftime. This resulted in shots for Hakim Ziyech and Bertrand Traoré. But Ajax failed to reward itself. Former PEC striker Tomás Necid tested Onana from nearby just before the break. The Cameroonian goalie showed –as he also has in countless other times this season – his class by making a feline save. The first half remained scoreless.
Legia – Ajax remained intense after the break; not necessarily good, but exhausting and exciting. In that respect, this European duel was educational for the Ajacieds; this is exactly what Daley Sinkgraven, among others, had eagerly anticipated on the eve of the match. Tete hasn’t been playing much this season due to heavy competition within the team. The right back displayed a lot of determination and, at the one-hour mark, played the ball wide of the goal with a defensive action.
Ajax was unable to find any holes in Legia’s black and white defense during the last half hour, valuable football experience aside. Ajax almost had a setback during a lightning-quick counter. Guilherme thought he was rounding off, but found Onana in his path at the critical moment.
The Amsterdam team needed to make their move in the final fifteen minutes. Despite (or perhaps, thanks to) the intense Polish pressure, Bosz swapped Traoré out for Justin Kluivert. After promising first steps in the Eredivisie, the 17 year-old made his European debut here. Ten minutes before time, Donny van de Beek replaced Hakim Ziyech at midfield.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a memorable European debut for Kluivert in a bad way. Due to circumstances, Kluivert’s substitution lasted a scant fifteen minutes. After the second yellow, thus red card, for Tete, the right winger was called back to the sidelines for tactical reasons. Extra defender Heiko Westermann came into the game to help bring in the 0-0 game.
It worked. The stride fora spot in the round of sixteen of the Europa League will resume on Thursday, February 23 in the Amsterdam ArenA. In Ajax’s sold-out home base, yet another compelling football battle will take place.