Ajax remains on PSV and FC Twente’s trail in the Eredivisie. As the competitors for the national title fought for their wins during extra time, NAC Breda – Ajax, was, in contrast, decided quite early on Sunday afternoon. Siem de Jong, Mounir El Hamdaoui and Miralem Sulejmani lifted the team from Amsterdam past NAC for the second time this week.
Just three days after Thursday’s cup meeting in the Amsterdam ArenA, NAC and Ajax met once again. The competition match between NAC and Ajax was played this time in the sold out Rat Verlegh Stadium. With a 4-1 home win fresh in their memory, Frank de Boer’s team was also successful in Breda in its pursuit of a win.
The team from Amsterdam had made one line up change after Thursday’s match. Demy de Zeeuw got injured during the week and was replaced by Vurnon Anita. After Luis Suarez’s departure (his transfer to Liverpool FC was completed on Friday), Mounir El Hamdaoui returned to the squad. With the Moroccan centre forward available once more, de Boer had more room to play with his strikers. As El Hamdaoui isn’t yet able to play a full match, Siem de Jong once again was posted in the centre forward position. Miralem Sulejmani and Lorenzo Ebecilio flanked number 10 on the right and left side.
Title competitor PSV won on Saturday evening, at the last minute, with a winning goal in extra time, defeating nine Willem II players, 2-1. The Ajax players needed to hold their ground against the league leader in the Rat Verlegh Stadium. At the same time as NAC-Ajax, FC Twente – Feyenoord was being played.
Left back Daley Blind’s continued pressure delivered a goal for Ajax within fifteen minutes. Leonardo misplayed the ball in his own box, losing it to Blind. The defender simply passed to De Jong, who didn’t miss the open goal. “Thanks Leo”, was the teasing cheer from the 750-Ajax fan strong visitors’ stand. Former Ajax player Leonardo played an unlucky first half. The Brazilian waited for his opportunities, but kept making errors in judgement. His hunt for a penalty – with two dives – remained, rightfully, unrewarded. After half an hour, NAC player Jens Janse fired the first shot for his team towards Maarten Stekelenburg. Before that, the players from Breda were mostly playing catch up with their guests. In the last fifteen minutes before the break, Ajax gave their hosts a breather. This offered NAC the opportunity to fight to even the game up. But co-coaches Gert Aandewiel and John Karelse’s team didn’t pose much danger.
“We began with a good position play”, said Frank de Boer about the match. “We applied pressure well to the opponents, and pushed forward. Daley (Blind) completely pushed through to the box, and we scored the 0-1 goal. That’s great, and a reward for him. After that, NAC is the team who was more opportunistic in their playing.”
The team from Breda were often on the edge of acceptable behaviour during the second half. NAC player Donny Gorter crossed the line with an angry kick to Vurnon Anita, resulting in only a yellow card for NAC from tolerant referee Bas Nijhuis. The hurt Anita needed to be substituted soon after. El Hamdaoui came in as centre forward during the 57th minute. De Jong moved back to midfield after the substitution. The change was short lived. Six minutes later, De Jong, who had also taken a hit due to an uncontrolled move from Jens Janse, was substituted for the more controlling Rasmus Lindgren.
“We were reactive instead of anticipating during that period”, said de Boer, referring to the team’s weaker phase right before and right after the break. “After the break, we were a bit better, but NAC remained dangerous with their opportunistic balls towards the front. And there were Leonardo’s two penalty moments. I think he fell easily, but the referee could have just as easily have given him the shots. We didn’t take advantage well enough, I think.”
NAC continued to hunt for the boundaries, and the yellow and black clad team got their supporters behind them. Even when there’s no “NAC evening”, the Breda fans are always a factor. They are among the most passionate supporters in the Eredivisie. Ajax had a hard time with Breda’s determination, both on the field and from the stands, but didn’t flinch. El Hamdaoui’s goal came at exactly the right moment. The Ajax centre forward lifted his team with a goal which was both beautiful and fortunate. Practically stuck to the back line, El Hamdaoui made good through NAC captain Rob Penders’ legs. With the freeing 2-0, NAC gave in. Sulejmani gave the Breda fans an even bigger headache with his 3-0 goal. Free in front of Jelle Ten Rouwelaar, the Serb shot straight in during extra time. FC Twente managed to do what PSV couldn’t on Saturday night. Bryan Ruiz gave the ‘Tukkers’ a victory during extra time. The race for the title remains exciting.
“Of course I’m happy and satisfied with this result, and with Mounir’s return”, said de Boer. “If they force a next goal, you know we’ll get a lot of room. We need to play that out better. But this also has to do with youth, experience, and playing matches.”
The Ajax coach confirmed during the post NAC – Ajax press conference to have interest in Bas Dost and Dries Mertens. It’s expected that one of these forwards will come to reinforce the team before the transfer window closes. “We’re talking with both players and want to have some clarity as soon as possible. I’m assuming that one of them will come.” De Boer has spoken with Dost in any case. It was a positive discussion. “I’m assuming that he’ll fit well into our system, and can be very dangerous within it.”
Keep watching Ajax TV for a complete summary of NAC Breda – Ajax, plus interviews with players afterwards.