Ajax all but secure preliminary Champions League

The best result for Ajax did not come in Enschede but in Tilburg, where Willem II kept Feyenoord to 1-1. Ajax's lead over Feyenoord in the Dutch league is now three points and 13 goals. Reaching the preliminary round of next season's Champions League seems almost certain. Ajax narrowly defeated FC Twente (2-1). ,,Reaching the Champions League is very important for these players. It is very attractive to them. If it helps keeping these players at the club, then that makes me very happy", Ronald Koeman said afterwards.

Ajax had to go all out again in the last away match of the season, in Enschede against FC Twente. Nothing had been decided yet in the Holland Casino Eredivisie. Feyenoord were trailing in the league table by only one point and therefore were still very much in the race for the second place and a spot in the qualifying round of the Champions League. But Ajax could only miss out if they failed themselves.

A big plus for the team from Amsterdam was that captain Cristian Chivu was allowed to play against FC Twente after sitting out two matches with a suspension. In Jari Litmanen's absence Steven Pienaar played on the 'number-10' position. Andy van der Meyde started on his familiar right wing, although Koeman made Van der Meyde and Sikora change sides after fifteen minutes, only to go back to his original concept shortly before halftime.

Koeman could regularly be seen shaking his head in disappointment in the first half. Ajax played - apart from the opening minutes - sloppily and sluggishly. The team had chances, through Sikora and Rafael van der Vaart, but both found Boschker on their way. Twente had the better chances in the first half. Houwing was left unmarked twice, but his headers missed precision. ,,We should have converted the chances for Van der Vaart and Sikora", Koeman thought. ,,In this phase every match is tough, no matter who you play. We started fading as the first half went on. The ball did not move well, the pitch was pretty dry. But Twente had good chances."

In the second half Koeman changed tactics. Van der Vaart moved down a line, Pienaar went to the right and Van der Meyde moved to the middle of the attack. Twente were not very impressed and even started playing more offensively as the half went on.

But it was Ajax that took the lead. After a little over an hour referee Dick van Egmond pointed to the penalty spot when Van der Meyde was brought down by Grujic. It was goalkeeper Boschker - who has a reputation as a penaly killer - versus Chivu. The captain celebrated his return with a solid strike toward the low corner, 0-1.

Twente did not intend to give up easily. The team, that saw many players play their last home match for Twente, wanted to say goobye to the home crowd in a worthy manner. Ajax had to stay alert. Collins John had an excellent opportunity, but Bogdan Lobont saved. Only eight minutes before the end Ajax could breathe a sigh of relief. Van der Meyde topped a rush on the left side with a great pass to Van der Vaart. The striker - in Zlatan Ibrahimovic's absence - found the net with his left. ,,That was a well played attack", said Koeman. ,,Although Twente had their chances in this match, I thought we were more dangerous.'' Twente came back to 1-2 through a late goal by John but it was too late to change the outcome of the match.

Koeman stayed before a television screen for a long time before he went to the press conference after the match. ,,We have done what we had to by winning today. We were helped by Willem II who kept Feyenoord to 1-1. Normally that puts us in the preliminary round of the Champions League. I think we deserved that. It's a big compliment for the players, with the extra schedule we've had this year in the Champions League. I am very relieved of course. It has been a long and exciting race in which Feyenoord has made it very difficult on us. But character and team spirit have brought us where we belong. We have been able to deal with the injuries we've had. It is very important for the club and the players, so I can say I am relieved. If certain players now stay at Ajax, because we have made it to the Champions League halen, we are very happy."

Thursday Ajax play their last match of the season, at home against Heerenveen, who can still earn a place in the UEFA Cup. Feyenoord play against Roda, who can also earn a place in the UEFA Cup and PSV have to get one point for the title against Groningen who need one point to avoid playing against relegation. ,,If they make a deal, there is nothing we can do about it", Koeman hinted at a possible 'fixed' draw.