On Thursday evening, Ajax qualified for the UEFA Europa League round of sixteen. In the home game against Legia Warsaw, Nick Viergever turned out to be Ajax’s secret weapon on the left side. It was thus no surprise that it was he who ultimately scored the only goal on goalie Arkadiusz Malarz, 1-0.
After Legia-Ajax’s scoreless tie, the main story was Davy Klaassen’s goal, disqualified by the referee. One week ago, partly due to this, Ajax was robbed of an away goal, which could potentially be important in reaching the round of sixteen in the UEFA Europa League.
Unlike last week, Ajax started this game with Joël Veltman on the squad, but was forced to do without the other wing defender, Daley Sinkgraven. Nick Viergever was thus at left back and Jairo Riedewald stepped in at the freed up spot on the left in the defensive heart. Legia was missing its most important play-maker, captain Miroslav Radovic.
The other nine spots were identical. But the light show prior to the game was one of a kind. There was very colorful entertainment in the full Amsterdam ArenA, to the sounds of André Rieu. After the musical warm-up, he crowd was ready for yet another 90 minute show courtesy of the players.
However, there was not much to cheer for in the first half. Ajax definitely had a few opportunities, the best being in the twentieth minute. Hakim Ziyech rounded a stunning attack off with a near-goal. Joël Veltman opened up diagonally onto Amin Younes. The small dribbler found Ziyech who, with a well-placed low-shot, almost scored the opening goal. The post stood in his way. More difficult opportunities followed for Davy Klaassen and Bertrand Traoré, but both send their headers over. However, Legia noticeably gave Nick Viergever a lot of space. The Polish players didn’t know him yet as a left back who comes up, and so they mainly left him alone.
Nerve-wrecking halftime score
Was it only Ajax who made an impact? Definitely not. The Polish team gambled on the long balls when Ajax lost possession, and came close to success twice. One time, Andre Onana rescued his team by running out of his goal, and the other time it was Jairo Riedewald who stood in the way of Legia’s success. Four minutes before the break, Vadis Odjidja was just a breath short of sending Ajax into the locker room down a goal. But the halftime score was 0-0. A nerve-wrecking score, but one with potential – this was true for both team.
Legia came onto the field much later than Ajax, ready for the second half. Would anyone score, or would the game be forced into overtime and, eventually, penalties? Nick Viergever had an answer ready for the fifty-thousand fans in the ArenA. The left back was the one who was deepest into enemy territory with keeper Malarz was just able to push away Younes’ shot and he scored a controlled goal on the rebound, 1-0!
The picture had totally changed, although Legia, based on the away goals it had scored, only needed one in order to reach the next round. The Polish supporters kept the faith and, with bared chests, continued to support their team passionately. The Ajax crowd were also excited when they saw David Neres warming up on the sidelines. The Brazilian acquisition was in the selection for the first time and everybody was very curious to see him in action. But Neres sat down again. During this warm-up, Kasper Dolberg had displayed his class once again in the penalty kick area, but unfortunately, nobody was there to pick up the rebound from his shot.
Sanchez and Veltman suspended
Referee Anthony Taylor blocked two Ajacieds from the next round when he gave both Davinson Sanchez and Veltman yellow cards. Shortly after Sanchez, Traoré received a yellow card as well from the English referee. On the free kick after his foul, Maciej Dabrowski came into prime scoring position, but his shot was disarmed by Onana. The formidable Ajax keeper did this once again just two minute later when Qazaishvili made an attempt. Ajax seemed to have lost their grip on the mtch after Tomás Necid came in.
A lightning fast breakawa by Younes and Ziyech brough Traoré into a fantastic position. His curve ball ended up too far from the goal. In the 81st minute, Lasse Schöne took a shot, which unfortunately went wide. This was Dolberg’s last moment of the match, as he made way for Abdelhak Nouri.
A blood-curdling final phase ensued. Would Ajax manage to hang on to the lead? With four minutes of extra time, Ajax’s job was to survive. In the counter, an end to all doubt appeared near as five Ajacieds stormed Malarz, unguarded. But Ziyech went in on his own instead of passing to Traoré. So the end of the match was nail-biting, too. It was only once Taylor had blown the final whistle that everyone finally believed it. Ajax was through to the round of sixteen in the European cup tournament. Thanks to Nick Viergever.