A very young Ajax, which we have mainly seen in the cup tournament games, defeated Panathinaikos 2-0 in Thursday evening’s UEFA Europa League game. In the first half, Lasse Schöne scored on a beautiful free kick, and in the second half, Kenny Tete scored his very first goal with Ajax 1. Those were the highlights of a great Europa Cup evening.
Coach Peter Bosz’s line-up for this Europa League game against Panathinaikos had a strong flavour of the KNVB cup matches. No fewer than seven Ajacieds from this evening’s squad, Kenny Tete, Mitchell Dijks, Matthijs De Ligt, Abdelhak Nouri, Vaclav Cerny, Donny Van de Beek and Mateo Casseirra, had played in last month’s game against Kozakken Boys. But in Werkendam, Diederik Boer had been the keeper, and Jairo Riedewald, Anwar El Ghazi and Riechedly Bazoer had also been on the field. This time, Riedewald is having problems with his knee, El Ghazi has been relegated to the Ajax Reserves for one month, and Bazoer was excluded from the selection for disciplinary reasons. Now, Andre Onana was in goal as usual, and Heiko Westermann and Lasse Schöne were the veterans in the young group. Amin Younes rounded off the team.
Two youngsters were making their European debut in this last European home game of 2016. This was the first match for Matthijs de Ligt and Abdelhak Nouri within the lines. But they were not the only ones for whom Panathinaikos was an unknown opponent. It was only Lasse Schöne (captain) , Mitchell Dijks and Amin Yones who had faced the opponent in the first match, which Ajax won 1-2 thanks to goals by Traoré and Riedewald.
Bosz had the luxury of sending this young team onto the field, since the next round had already been reached after a win against Celta de Vigo in the fourth round. The coach saw that the young guns stood their ground against Panathinaikos. Ajax dominated a great deal of the game, although they had very few opportunities in the beginning.
It was destined to be Lasse Schöne’s free kick. It landed on Westermann’s head, but the German sent the header over. This was the catalyst for some danger from the Greek side. After a bad pass, Victor Ibarbo was able to charge through to Onana alone, but fortunately for Ajax, he shot onto the post. After a short period of restlessness, Ajax picked itself up again, which led to a shot in the 37th minute by Vaclav Cerny, after a beautiful dribble by Younes. Cerny’s shot disappeared just wide of the goal.
But two minutes later, the goal came. Captain Schöne, with the precision of a surgeon, sent a calculated, flawless shot into the corner beyond the reach of keeper Steele, 1-0. That was the halftime score.
Shortly after the break, Ajax doubled the score. It was right back Kenny Tete who, in his 44th match for Ajax and his first European one of this season, scored his first goal for the club. With a low shot, he rounded off the attack that he had initiated himself, 2-0. With that goal, the youngsters had officially been unleashed. Great attacks followed each other in rapid succession. Younes, Van de Beek and Cassierra all had good opportunities but they failed to make good on them.
In the 62nd minute, a player making his European debut came onto the field. Pelle Clement, who had made his debut earlier this season in a cup match, came in for Younes. Bosz wasn’t yet done with initiating his young talents to this stage, and also brought in Frenkie de Jong. Captain Schöne left the field, handing off the captain’s band to goal-scorer Tete with a wide grin on his face. This smile remained on his face until the final whistle had been blown, as Ajax kept its lead and is the undisputed winner of Group G with 13 points from 5 games. No matter what happens at Standard Luik on December 8, Ajax will remain in first place.