Sunday’s Ajax – Sparta game was more than a simple competition match. In addition to the concrete goal of not letting any balls drop in the title race, the 2-0 win at home was mainly marked by the great tribute to Ajax icon Piet Keizer, who had passed away on Friday.
On Sunday, Keizer was honoured in the almost sold-out Amsterdam ArenA. In addition to the customary minute of silence and mourning bands on the Ajacieds’ upper arm, Edwin van der Sar paid tribute to Keizer’s important part in countless Ajax successes prior to the game. “Piet was a true Ajacied, and a real Ajax left winger”, said the general manager to the crowd about the left winger who reached the age of 73. On the stadium screens, the greatest images of Piet Keizer flashed by. His illustrious jersey number, 11 – which, in addition to his signature ‘scissors’ move, is also a Keizer trademark – could be seen all over the ArenA. In short, the club icon received the tribute that he richly deserved.
After all of the beautiful words and images, as of 14:30, it was all business as usual for the Ajacieds. The day after leader Feyenoord’s win against FC Groningen, the Amsterdam team needed to remain flawless. Bertrand Traoré was back in Peter Bosz’s squad after returning from the Africa Cup, where he had played with Burkina Faso. The African thus took over his spot, which had been filled by Justin Kluivert in previous weeks. The youngster had been a sensation as an adventurous right winger. As part of his learning process, the 17 year-old experienced the inevitable steps back. However, young Kluivert came in for the exhausted Traoré ten minutes before time.
It was also Traoré who helped his team take the lead right before halftime. The right winger, in a Zlatanesque move, sliced and turned, forging a path through Sparta’s defense. Traoré concluded his offensive plays in the 45th minute with a surprising shot into the near corner. Sparta goalie Roy Kortsmit had been sent onto the wrong foot from a mile out and could only turn around to see the ball disappear behind him: 1-0.
For a long time, it looked like the first half of Ajax – Sparta would remain goal-less. The home team had opportunities, but fouled up these chances. Nick Viergever should have brought his team into the lead in the eighth minute. The central defender ticked – on the fly – a razor sharp assist by Hakim Ziyech just over the Sparta goal.
After that, Davy Klaassen and Lasse Schöne both came close to scoring. The captain’s shot was block and his follow-up shot went wide. Kortsmit was able to block a free kick by the Danish midfield controller out of the goal in the nick of time. Sparta hoped to retreat to the locker rooms unscathed, but this hope was shattered in the last official minute of the first half.
But Sparta’s hope to draw even with Ajax was in vain. Four minutes after the break, Kasper Dolberg doubled the lead. After prep work from Schöne and Younes – Ajax’s current number 11 – the ball landed, via Ziyech, at the feet of the Danish centre forward. Dolberg shot in immaculately (2-0) and thus earned his thirteenth goal – in all competitions – this season.
Then came the wait for more Ajax goals. With a sharp shot from Traoré (onto the post) and Ziyech (free kick stopped by Kortsmit), outside elements stood in the way of Ajax’s success. Andre Onana was unpassable on the rare attempt from the Rotterdam side. Right back Denzel Dumfries came face to face with the Ajax keeper in the 76th minute. The Cameroonian only needed to stand strong in order to turn away the shot. On the opposite side, Younes and Dolberg also had good opportunities.
Thus the home game against Sparta resulted in an unremarkable 2-0 win. The Ajacieds did what they needed to do against Alex Pastoor’s team. The Amsterdam team was even able to spare itself somewhat thanks to substitutes Riedewald, Kluivert and Frenkie de Jong, looking ahead to the upcoming match against Legia Warsaw (Thursday) in the UEFA Europa League. The deficit against Feyenoord remains at five points.
The football afternoon was mostly marked by the tribute to Piet Keizer. In that sense, it was an even bigger shame that Amin Younes, Ajax’s current number 11 and newest left winger, missed his golden opportunity in the final minute…