Riechedly Bazoer’s precise sizzler turned out to be worth its weight in gold in this home edition of the Classic. After Amin Younes’ beautiful tying goal (1-1), Ajax’s midfielder struck beautifully in the ArenA. Ajax ended the football afternoon, which was extra special due to John Heitinga’s farewell, with a sweet 2-1 win against Feyenoord.
Combat, goals, passion and volatility; the latest edition of Ajax – Feyenoord contained all of the elements that make the Classic both compelling and exhilarating. The tension leading up to the top match was easy to explain. Tension is a given anytime Ajax and Feyenoord meet. But this time, the battle between the number two (Ajax) and number three Eredivisie- ranked teams was one that neither team could afford to lose. Ajax needed to keep the pressure on rankings leader PSV. Feyenoord had not won any of its last five matches. Despite a lukewarm midweek cup victory against Roda JC (0-1), the South Rotterdam club simply could not allow itself a sixth competition loss.
Mike van der Hoorn
Compared to the last competition game against Roda JC (1-1), Frank de Boer had made changes to several positions. Mike van der Hoorn started in the heart of defense, and Ricardo van Rhijn – central defender last week – lost his spot as right back to Joël Veltman. Lasse Schöne was Ajax’s starting right winger on Sunday. Anwar El Ghazi started as centre forward, just as he had against Roda JC. Arek Milik was relegated to the bench at the start of this Classic.
Ajax experienced an early setback in a lively Amsterdam ArenA, home to roughly 52.000 spectators. Jairo Riedewald was forced to abandon the Classic after just ten minutes with a slight foot injury. Nick Viergever came in for him. Three minutes after the substitution, Jens Toornstra brought the Rotterdam team to a 0-1 win. The midfielder rounded off preparation work by Dirk Kuyt and Tonny Vilhena with a shot into the far corner from twenty meters out.
Ajax was forced to play catch-up just thirteen minutes into the game. But the Ajax fans didn’t need to wait long for the tying goal. Eight minutes after Toornstra’s goal, left forward Amin Younes evened up the game. Younes’ 1-1 goal was pure eye candy. Receiving a pass from Davy Klaassen – the captain was back in the squad for the first time since the winter break – the German first outplayed Toornstra, and then did the same to Eric Botteghin, making them mere spectators within the box. Former Ajacied Kenneth Vermeer was subsequently powerless against Younes’ diagonal sizzler. It wasn’t the first time this season that the slight German forward proved his considerable value to the Ajax selection.
The Classic remained exciting for the remainder of the first half, and was even explosive at times. It was tit-for-tat in terms of opportunities. Cillessen had a good answer to Vilhena’s razor-sharp free kick. On the other side of the renewed ArenA field, Botteghin also neutralized a Klaassen shot. Soon after, El Ghazi seemed on his way to scoring the coveted 2-1 goal, but was stopped by Vermeer at the last minute, and then it was Schöne who made a save at the goal line on a shot by Sven van Beek. With the 1-1 halftime score, the 60th Eredivisie Classic in Amsterdam was highly charged.
Excitement became outright euphoria after Riechedly Bazoer’s perfect shot. The midfielder exhibited his ample class with a long shot that disappeared into the upper corner via the outside edge of the post. The deficit was turned around into a lead; in the last 25 minutes, it was Feyenoord who played catch-up. Three minutes later, Nemanja Gudelj was in a position to decide the Classic with a penalty kick. The penalty was awarded after Vermeer had come out fiercely, which launched Klaassen. Gudelj’s shot disappeared high over the goal, and Feyenoord escaped an early knock-out.
The 2-1 lead was enough for a new, always sweet Classic win. With that, John Heitinga, the club icon who had bid farewell to the Ajax crowd prior to the match, remained undefeated in the last Classic in which he actively participated. Ajax is still on leader PSV’s trail. The Eindhoven team will try to increase their lead on Ajax (1 point) later on Sunday, when they face FC Utrecht. The Classic win was an extra homage to Johnny Heitinga, who retired just prior to the Classic. The veteran and recently retired football player was carried on his team mates’ shoulders afterwards.