Ajax has had a majority stake in Ajax Cape Town in South Africa since 1999. In the Message from Capetown column, we focus on the African Ajax team. In this first edition of the 2012-2013 season, coach Maarten Stekelenburg looks back on this very special practice match between Ajax Cape Town and Manchester United, 1-1.
The Cape Town Stadium had been sold out for weeks. All of Cape Town and surrounding areas were looking forward to the match that the great Manchester United would come to play against Ajax Cape Town. “We almost never play to a sold-out stadium in Cape Town”, said coach Maarten Stekelenburg shortly after the match, which took place on Saturday. “You could tell that all the stops were pulled out for Manchester United’s visit. A stadium filled to the gills like that gave a great atmosphere. There was so much support, not only for Manchester United, but for us, too. Football fans got their fill, for sure.”
Stekelenburg himself watched his team keep up quite nicely with the millionaires from England. “I got in touch with Hennie Spijkerman beforehand, because he had seen Ajax Amsterdam play against United in the UEFA Europa League. I had used those matches for the players. We didn’t talk about it anymore than that. We managed pretty well. We did a good job slicing through. Our goal wasn’t to beat Manchester, but to play a positive match. Play our own game. We were well organized and defended well.”
In theory, this match against Manchester didn’t fit in that well with the buildup to the new season, which starts for Ajax Cape Town on August 10. “But, obviously, you don’t say no to Manchester United”, says Stekelenburg. “This was the fourth match; the first three were against lower amateur teams. This one came in between. Now I could see how the players were, physically, as a team. I liked what I saw.”
Ajax Cape Town seemed to decide the match in the 86th minute when Alcardo van Graan sent a fantastic heel ball into the far corner of the goal – 1-0 for the home team.
Goal scorer Van Graan was completely flabbergasted after the match: “I can’t believe what just happened”, he told Ajax Cape Town.com. “Just playing against Manchester United, the team I’ve been a fan of since I was a child, is a dream come true. I hoped to get a few minutes of play. When I was asked to warm up, I got the shivers. But that was over as soon as I touched the ball. But to score against my heroes from Old Trafford, that’s a moment I’ll never forget. Afterwards, Sir Alex Ferguson shook my hand. That’s the stuff dreams are made of. I’ll always remember this day.”
In extra time, the Portuguese winger Bebe tied the game. “Beforehand, 1-1 sounds good, but when you see 1-0 in the horizon, it’s a shame to end up in a tie”, said the coach, who is satisfied with preparations until now. “We had a good three weeks, with very few injuries. We want to build in some security, especially on defense. This was a good test, we’re also better individually, even though we still have some work to do.”
Ajax Cape Town still has three friendly matches to go. The season for the South African Ajax team starts on August 10 with a duel against Super Sport.