Despite a shaky ending, Ajax won their cup match against AGOVV with a narrow margin: 1-2. The Amsterdam team advanced to the third round of the KNVB cup. “It wasn’t a heart warming win, but are through to the next round” summarized Jol.
Coach Martin Jol gave both Luis Suarez and Gregory van de Wiel the night off. Bruno Silva replaced Van de Wiel on right back. Micky Sulejmani started on forward, together with his offensive partner Dario Cvitanich.
Compared to the last match against VVV (4-0, four goals from Suarez), Vurnon Anita played one line back. The player, who had had been a thorn in Keisuke Honda’s side throughout that game, began this time as left defender. Siem de Jong wasn’t in the squad on Sunday, but did appear at kick off in Apeldoorn as offensive centre midfielder.
Demy de Zeeuw played his first match as Ajax captain in his hometown. The captain put in another feisty performance from midfield. But Ajax’s hard work before half time didn’t pay off. After fifteen minutes of play, Sulejmani saw his attempt, well set up by Vurnon Anita, sail just wide. Kennedy’s attempt at the halfway mark of the first half also went wide, while Jan Vertonghen’s long shot went high over the goal.
The AGOVV coaches, formerly of Ajax, John van den Brom and Peter van Vossen, saw their team hold their own nicely against their guests. The home team set the tone thanks to a dangerous, curving corner kick from Nyron Wau. Stekelenburg just managed to reach the ball, clearing it away from the goal area. Three minutes before half time, Nacer Chadli could have been the hero of Sportpark Berg en Bos. The midfielder’s sharp volley bounced just wide of the goal.
Ajax brought in fresh reinforcement by starting Dennis Rommendahl in the second half, to shift the game into higher gear. The pace did indeed move up a few notches. Within six minutes, Anita had put Ajax on the right track. Ajax’s best man during the duel against VVV in de Koel fired a bomb from outside the edge of the box. The drop kick went in the upper corner, despite Stefan Postma’s grasping attempt.
The left back’s goal seemed to set Jol’s team free of a burden. There isn’t much to gloat about in Ajax’s most recent cup history. Last season, led by Marco van Basten, they were surprisingly eliminated by FC Volendam. The previous year, the amateur Kozakken Boys gave Ajax a run for their money. They followed up their narrow escape in Werkendam by losing a midweek away game against NAC. Ajax won their sixteenth and, until now, last cup by beating AZ in the final of 2007.
Ajax stayed alert, as their lead was slim. Chadli remained a threat on left wing. Silva often saw the back of the lightning quick and technically strong AGOVV player. Chadli found Hans van de Haar, but his header missed the mark. Chadli then dribbled successfully, and decided to take a shot himself, but the ball zipped over the crossbar.
Hesdey Suart became the black sheep at Berg en Bos. After an hour of play, the defender got in the way of Cvitanich’s shot on goal, deflecting it into his own net. At 0-2, it looked like the cards had been dealt. Chadli – the lefty continued to pose a threat – coupled with an error from Stekelenberg, kept the match exciting for just a bit longer. After the keeper was called on a fault against substitute Jeremy Bokila, referee Mario Winter placed the ball on the penalty spot. Main attraction Chadli made good with this unexpected chance, 1-2.
“We realised that it could be difficult” said Martin Jol at the press conference. “Actually, everything was going well until the penalty kick. Especially after making it 1-2, AGOVV were strong. There were several times in the game when they could have tied the score. That’s the part of the game that wasn’t exactly heart warming for us.”
Mediocre defence nearly was Ajax’s downfall in the last minutes. Based on last weeks’ results – where Ajax managed to keep a clean sheet – the team’s most trustworthy line came up short twice, at short intervals. Bokila also missed out on opportunities to become the evening’s hero. In front of the Klaas Jan Huntelaar Stand, he wasted AGOVV’s chance to level the score. Luis Suarez – who according to Jol “wouldn’t have played if we’d been leading 3-0” - also got a clear chance. The Uruguayan failed to hammer it home this time. At the end, Ajax had to make do with a shaky win - but a seventeenth victory of the cup is still possible. “We shouldn’t linger over this match. Let’s look forward to the next round”, concluded Jol.