In a two-faced match, Ajax filled up on some much-needed self-confidence on Saturday’s match against Go Ahead Eagles. A lackluster Ajax became a sure-footed, scoring Ajax in the second half: 6-0. “I saw the Ajax that I wanted to see for ninety minutes”, said Frank de Boer with satisfaction.
Sandwiched between difficult cup win against FC Volendam and a Champions League game against AC Milan (Tuesday), Ajax hosted Go Ahead Eagles. The Deventer team are familiar foes of the Amsterdam team. The last official meeting that took place in the capital was on March 27, 1996. In the old Ajax stadium, de Meer, Ajax won 2-1. The Eagles from Deventer (founded in 1902) thus made their ArenA debut on Saturday; Ajax (founded in 1900) effectively moved into the ArenA a few months after the two teams last met in Amsterdam. The fifteen supporter busses from Deventer to Amsterdam indicated how important this ArenA debut was to the Eagle fans.
Ajax’s Director of Football Affairs and former Deventer player Marc Overmars saw, just like the other 48.586 spectators, a home team with some surprising faces in a few places. Lesly de Sa started on right wing. Christian Poulsen started at central midfield. But most eyes were on Jasper Cillessen. A few days prior to this meeting with the Eagles, De Boer had announced his decision to switch keepers. Kenneth Vermeer was forced to relinquish his spot as first keeper after a series of sub-par performances. It’s now Cillessen’s turn to be the number 1 on Ajax’s match sheet.
It would be interesting to see how the Groesbeek native would perform with this new status. Cillessen, who appears to have nerves of steel, saw his team create several opportunities against the pupils from the Jupiler League. Ajax started swiftly and had an eager hunter in left winger Viktor Fischer. Within one minute of referee Van Sichem’s first whistle, the Dane sent a barely wide shot onto the goal. In the opening minute, captain Siem de Jong also saw his attempt to score go wide.
No matter how much the Amsterdam team attempted before the break, nothing resulted in a goal. Ricardo van Rhijn sent a flying shot that disappeared over the crossbar. After that, it was mainly Fischer who came close to scoring. The Dane saw a shot disappear into the side net, while another attempt right before the goal line was turned away. Poulsen also shone once in a while against Deventer. After one of Cillessen’s few slip-ups, which involved not sending the ball out far enough after a corner, the experienced player made a save from his goal line.
“Today, I wanted to see an Ajax that was aggressive in play, coaching, and fending off the opponent”, said De Boer in retrospect. “And I saw that today for the entire ninety minutes. Then you see that both attacking and defending can be beautiful. And when you have four men on one opponent, then he’ll usually make a mistake on his own.”
Ajax may have started swiftly, but experienced some setbacks as well in the first minutes. Bojan Krkic, starting as centre forward, was forced to leave the field with an injury early on. Kolbeinn Sigthórsson – who was surprisingly started as a substitute – was thus able to remove his training suit. The Icelander was thus quickly promoted to (almost) starting leader of the offenses. Bit Sigthórsson would make his mark mostly in the second half…
“It’s an important year for Bojan; he really wants to stay fit for one year, and play his way back into FC Barcelona”, said De Boer about his unfortunate loaned out player, who was visibly emotional as he left the field. “His injury comes at a very unfortunate time, mostly for him. So it’s a pretty big setback. I think he’s going to be out for a couple of weeks.”
After a scoreless first half, Ajax had a helping hand in taking the lead. Jop van der Linder shot an ‘assist’ from Sigthórsson past his own keeper, Eloy Romm. After the 1-0, a scenario unfolded which appeared to be the exact opposite of what had happened with PSV; a phase during which the goals come in rapid succession. In Eindhoven, these were goals against; in the ArenA, the ball went into the right goal. Within seven minutes, the team from Amsterdam had built a comfortable lead.
Two minutes after the opening goal, De Sa built Ajax’s lead by scoring at close range: 2-0. Two and three minutes later, it was Sigthórsson who scored twice in quick succession. First the Icelander made good on a beautiful pass from De Sa (3-0). After that, Sigthórsson finished a short dribble perfectly: 4-0. The sudden shower of goals set the stage for yet another mistake by Go Ahead. This time, it was former Ajax player Xandro Schenk who sent the ball out of nowhere to Lerin Duarte’s feet. The midfielder didn’t need much time to think before scoring his first Ajax goal: 5-0. Siem de Jong scored five minutes later with a header, after Room had turned away a shot by Fischer. The score had been finalized.
At times, Fischer exhibited the brilliance that he had shown last season. The hard working Dane deserved a goal, but, after ninety minutes, had to content himself with the title of Ajax Player of the Match. Cillessen can also look back on a successful performance in the almost sold-out ArenA.
Ajax filled up on self-confidence in this 6-0 win, just in time for the Champions League match against AC Milan. The exact value of this big win, which ties a record score from the 1971-1972 season, will become clearer as the season wears on. “Ninety minutes long, we controlled and created opportunities”, said De Boer with satisfaction. “Ajax showed passion.”
Keep watching Ajax TV for highlights of Ajax – Go Ahead Eagles, and post-match reactions from coach Frank de Boer, Viktor Fischer, Lesly de Sa and Kolbeinn Sigthórsson.